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Q&A: D.C. Gun Ban Overturned; What's Next?

Publication Date: 
June 26, 2008
National Public Radio
Bill Chappell

Professor Robert Weisberg had a conversation with NPR's Bill Chappell abut the Supreme Court's decision to overturn a Washington D.C. gun ban:

The Supreme Court's ruling that the District of Columbia can't ban its residents from owning handguns has advocates on both sides of the gun-control issue scrambling to reshape their strategies. The 5-4 decision is the court's first ruling on gun ownership since 1939.

For insight on the case, we spoke to professor Robert Weisberg of Stanford Law School in California. A former Supreme Court clerk, Weisberg now heads the Stanford Criminal Justice Center.

What is your initial reaction to the court's decision to declare the District of Columbia's handgun ban unconstitutional?

I think the Supreme Court just created new job opportunities for constitutional law attorneys. But this ruling may be much narrower than it appears. The D.C. gun law was the most draconian in the country.

It was this extreme statute, saying that otherwise qualified people — an average innocent citizen who could pass a background check — under the D.C. ordinance, she would violate the law by keeping a handgun in her home.

That's a very draconian ban.

It was extreme enough that it was as if it were written by the NRA, to force the court to come out and say, "Oh my God, that's just going too far."

And yet, this case wasn't filed by an average citizen, but by a security guard, Dick Anthony Heller, who lives in a high-crime area.

He is an extremely sympathetic plaintiff — seemingly as qualified a gun owner as you can have. He was somebody who just barely fell outside the line of a police officer.

It was the perfect case to force the Supreme Court to say that maybe a legislature can go too far in restricting gun ownership. It was bound to happen.