Late yesterday, the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Virginia that could have nationwide implications if it is successful because it challenges the ban on interstate handgun sales.
Under current law, residents of one state cannot purchase handguns in another state directly, i.e. a Washington resident cannot cross the Columbia River and buy a handgun directly from a Portland gun dealer. The handgun must be shipped from Portland to a gun dealer in, say, Vancouver, who will then do the paperwork and run the background check through the National Instant Check System (NICS). They must go through federally-licensed firearms dealers. The core issue in yesterday’s lawsuit filing regards SAF’s co-plaintiff, Michelle Lane, a resident of the District of Columbia. Three years ago, the Supreme Court affirmed in District of Columbia v. Dick Anthony Heller that the Second Amendment, striking down the District’s handgun ban and making it legal for District residents to own handguns for personal protection in their own homes.
There is just one fly in that ointment. Currently, there are no licensed gun dealers in the District, and a Virginia statute makes it illegal for District residents to cross the Potomac River and do business.
Named in the lawsuit as defendants are Attorney General Eric Holder and W. Steven Flaherty, superintendent of the Virginia State Police, because he enforces the state gun statute.
This marks the third lawsuit SAF has filed since the Heller ruling that names Holder as a defendant. Here’s another that recently passed a significant legal hurdle.
SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb says yesterday’s lawsuit will focus on a handgun statute that is no longer really relevant, thanks to the NICS background check. This check essentially can be conducted by any dealer, anywhere in the country. Don’t believe that? Ask any gun dealer or ask the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The information on a Form 4473 doesn’t change if one crosses a state border, so if John Smith, model citizen of Cleveland can buy a handgun legally in Ohio, he ought to be able to buy the same gun legally in Tacoma, because he is the same person, and his criminal record doesn’t miraculously change after he cruises west on I-90 or lands at SeaTac Airport.
In Michelle Lane’s case, she is a model citizen and merely wants to exercise her restored right to have a handgun in her home under the Second Amendment. However, because there is no federally licensed retail gun dealer in the District, she and a lot of other District residents are out of luck. Gottlieb thinks this is simply wrong, and here’s what he said:
“This is an important issue in the era of the national instant background check. The NICS check
should allow law-abiding citizens like Miss Lane to exercise their Second Amendment rights regardless their place of residence.”
SAF and Lane are represented by attorney Alan Gura of Gura & Possessky, a Virginia-based law firm. To refresh everyone’s memory, Gura is the attorney who won the Heller case in 2008, and also won last year’s equally-important Second Amendment case – incorporation through the 14th Amendment – in SAF’s challenge of the Chicago handgun ban. That case, McDonald v. City of Chicago, affirmed that the Second Amendment is applicable to state and local governments.
Here’s what Gura said about his eagerness to bring this lawsuit:
“Americans don’t check their constitutional rights at the state line, and since
Michelle Lane is legally entitled to possess firearms, forcing her to seek a non-existing D.C. dealer to buy a handgun is pointless when perfectly legitimate options exist minutes across the Potomac River.”
Lawsuits, including this one, will ultimately define the boundaries of firearms regulation nationwide, and Gottlieb is first to admit this is going to be a lengthy process. After all, he acknowledges, anti-gun politicians had decades to pass and incrementally expand gun control laws all over the country. SAF’s mission following the Heller and McDonald rulings is to win back lost gun rights, one lawsuit at a time.
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