20 July 2008

WSJ: 'How A Young Lawyer Saved the Second Amendment'

The Wall Street Journal has an excellent profile of Alan Gura, who successfully argued the Heller case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Here are a few snippets:

"A native of Israel, he grew up in Los Angeles and never owned a firearm until after that city's riots in 1992. That summer, before he enrolled at the Georgetown University Law Center, "I bought a gun in Los Angeles. I did not have it with me in law school, of course -- that was illegal."
He also has some ideas on why the high court, in more than 200 years had never truly addressed the meaning of the 2A. The 1939 Miller case, which only addressed a bootlegger's possession of a sawed-off shotgun, the court's decision was twisted by anti gun advocates to suggest that the justices had somehow endorsed the "collective rights" theory.

"By the beginning of this century, notes Mr. Gura, that theory had fallen into disfavor among legal academics. "Many scholars, including very well-known left-of-center or liberal scholars, had come to concede that the Second Amendment, whatever its scope, guarantees some sort of an individual right to own and carry firearms, not connected to military service."

"But the judiciary lagged behind the academy, owing to a dearth of Second Amendment litigation. Traditional civil-liberties groups like the ACLU largely backed the collective-rights theory, and gun-rights groups like the National Rifle Association focused their efforts on lobbying, in the belief that litigation was too risky.

"Virtually all the decisions that addressed the Second Amendment were styled United States v. Somebody," says Mr. Gura. "'Somebody' was a crack dealer, a bank robber -- some lowlife who had made a spurious Second Amendment claim as part of a package of desperate appeals." Faced with these sorts of cases, almost every federal appeals court had desultorily endorsed the collective rights view.

"That changed in 2001 with the case of Emerson v. U.S. A federal grand jury had indicted a Texas man for possessing a pistol while under a restraining order not to threaten his estranged wife. The trial judge dismissed the charges on Second Amendment grounds. The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the indictment, but held that the Second Amendment does protect an individual right."

And then Gura describes the compelling stories of the plaintiffs in the original complaint filed against the District of Columbia:

"Shelly Parker . . . is an African-American lady who moved to a part of Capitol Hill that was improving, but apparently not fast enough. [She] would call the police, get the neighbors involved, to try to get the drug dealers off the street. The drug dealers figured out fairly quickly what the source of their problem was and started harassing her, subjecting her to all kinds of threats, vandalism and so on. . . .

"Dick Heller is a special police officer of the District of Columbia . . . . When we started this suit, he was guarding -- with a gun -- the Federal Judicial Center on Capitol Hill . . . . But Mr. Heller was not allowed to have a gun in his own home for self-defense. . . .

"Tom Palmer is a Cato scholar, a gay man who had previously, in California, fended off a hate crime using a firearm that he happened to have on him. He is alive today, or at least avoided serious injury, because he was able to have access to a gun when he needed it. . . .

"Gillian St. Lawrence is a mortgage broker in Georgetown. . . . [She had] a lawfully registered shotgun, but . . . had to always keep that shotgun unloaded and disassembled, or bound by trigger lock. There was no exception for home self-defense. . . . Of course, she asserted the right to have a functional firearm. If you're allowed to have guns, you're allowed to have guns that actually work as such. We're gratified that both the D.C. Circuit and the Supreme Court agreed with us on that proposition." They did -- but it was close. The circuit-court panel that ruled in his clients' favor split 2-1."

Check out the full story, and pass it on.

No comments: