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Opening shots

Public defenders in Washington D.C. are challenging the city's virtually-complete ban on handguns on behalf of two of their clients who are charged with carrying guns without a license. This is the result of the Attorney General's recent pronouncement that he considered the Second Amendment to protect an individual right to keep and bear arms.

Of course, we get the obligatory whining from the anti-gun crowd:

Mathew Nosanchuk, litigation director for the Violence Policy Center, a gun-control advocacy group, said it was inevitable that criminal defendants would use Ashcroft's arguments to challenge gun laws.

"People have been thinking about this as an abstract legal theory when it's been clear that Ashcroft's interpretation would have real-world consequences," Nosanchuk said.

I don't know which people were thinking of this "as an abstract legal theory"; I think most people who have thought about the issue at all realized that this was about the real-world right to own guns. Note the slanted description of the issue as "criminal defendants" challenging gun laws, as opposed to "citizens" challenging them.

Still, you should expect slanting; what you shouldn't expect are blatant lies:

The Second Amendment -- "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed" -- was interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1939 to apply only to militias and not to individuals.
It's one thing to disagree with a particular policy, or a particular Supreme Court decision. It's quite another to rewrite these decisions. The Miller case (the 1939 case that newspapers never seem to identify, perhaps so that readers can't fact-check them) does not say that the second amendment applies "only to militias and not to individuals." Rather, it clearly discusses the right as an individual one, because the individual rights interpretation does not conflict with the militia interpretation.

Given the Bush Administration's position, as well as the increasing acceptance in the legal community of the individual rights interpretation, the District's ban looks extremely vulnerable. That won't necessarily help the particular defendants involved in these cases, both of whom have criminal records which might justify restrictions of their second amendment rights. But it would be a major victory for the gun rights community. And if crime decreases in Washington as a result -- as John Lott's research suggests that it should -- it could turn out to be the gun control industry's Waterloo.


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