NRA Eyes More Targets After D.C. Gun-Ban Win

Correction July 1, 2008

When first published, the following Web text contained an incorrect spelling for Stephen Halbrook, which has since been corrected.

Five cities and suburbs are facing lawsuits challenging their bans on handguns. When the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark June 26 decision, rejecting Washington, D.C.'s ban on handguns, gun-rights lawyers swung into action.

As a result, the legal landscape for gun laws could face dramatic changes.

The village of Morton Grove, Ill., just north of Chicago, has one of the oldest handgun bans in the nation on its books. It's also the target of one of the five lawsuits filed by the National Rifle Association.

Village Manager Joe Wade says Morton Grove isn't going to wait for a court battle. It's going to act.

"The village of Morton Grove has every intention to comply with [the Supreme Court ruling]," Wade says. "We're going to propose an ordinance that would eliminate the possession-of-handgun ban within the village."

The attitude is different in Oak Park, a suburb on Chicago's West Side that has become another target of NRA lawyers.

"It's just completely befuddling that our Supreme Court would be in alliance with the gangbangers," says Tom Barwin, the village manager in Oak Park.

Barwin used to be a police officer near Detroit. He said he's hoping Oak Park pushes back against the high court ruling. But that might not be easy.

Barwin says e-mail is already coming in from people interested in owning handguns.

He says he expects the village to meet with other communities that might want to fight to continue their bans, in order to figure out where to go next.

Where the NRA is going next is Chicago. The city has a handgun ban nearly identical to the D.C. law struck down by the Supreme Court.

The NRA lawsuit in San Francisco challenges a local ordinance that bars possession of handguns by public housing residents.

How far will the legal challenges go?

Stephen Halbrook, an outside counsel for the NRA, believes it won't be a free-for-all.

"Most laws will stay on the books," Halbrook says. "But that's because they're regulations and not outright bans."

At the same time, Halbrook says there is fertile ground for future challenges, whether by lawsuit or other means.

For instance, he said, Washington, D.C., officials suggested after the ruling that residents wouldn't be able to legally own semiautomatic handguns.

That's not acceptable, Halbrook says.

"The Supreme Court decision refers to handguns generally — not just revolvers," he points out. He says that means it applies to semiautomatic handguns as well, adding that there may be more semiautomatic handguns in use right now in the U.S. than there are revolvers.

And he predicts that if Washington, D.C., tries to use its zoning powers to keep handgun dealers out, that won't work either.

"It would be like if they banned books in D.C. and they told them they couldn't do that, so they banned bookstores," he says.

Still, Halbrook does think many gun regulations will stand.

But David Kairys, who teaches law at Temple University in Philadelphia, thinks differently.

He's a gun-control advocate, and he's an expert on gun laws.

He says the Supreme Court ruling doesn't provide a principle or a theory to help judges or lawmakers figure out what's constitutional and what's not.

Kairys says if he were "thinking as an NRA lawyer" he would conclude that the ruling "throws into question almost every regulation of guns."

Kairys isn't an NRA lawyer. But if he were, he says he would challenge just about every regulation now on the books with two words: self defense.

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