After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the District of Columbia’s handgun ban in 2008, the city once known as the “murder capital” of the United States regrouped and came back with a new, more limited law that banned assault weapons and large-capacity magazines, while requiring registration of handguns and long guns. That new narrower law was upheld by a federal court in 2010 year, but an appeals court called for closer scrutiny of some of the registration provisions.
On Thursday, a District of Columbia federal judge ruled for the second time that the District of Columbia’s gun law passes constitutional muster, affirming every provision of the amended law over a bevy of challenges to fingerprinting and photo requirements, gun-safety and vision tests, and even a rule that limited D.C. residents to registering one pistol per month.
“The people of this city, acting through their elected representatives, have sought to combat gun violence and promote public safety,” wrote U.S. District Judge James Boasberg. “The Court finds that they have done so in a constitutionally permissible manner.”
Boasberg recalled Washington, D.C.’s history of gun violence, with more than 400 homicides annually in the 1990s, noting that while the violence rate has improved, “residents will not soon forget the violence of the more recent past,” including this year’s Navy Yard mass shooting.
In an opinion that questioned several of plaintiffs’ premises because they would “invalidate any and all gun regulations,” Boasberg concluded that all of D.C.’s gun registration requirements are central to the goal of promoting public safety.
As in other court decisions since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, Boasberg applied a less demanding standard known as “intermediate scrutiny” to the registration requirements, reasoning that while a standard known as “strict scrutiny” was applied to outright gun bans, or limits on guns in the home, gun registration requirements do not impose as onerous a burden on the Second Amendment.
If this latest ruling is upheld by the appeals court, it could mark an ending to the long-running battle over D.C.’s gun laws, as other states move to impose new rigorous gun safety schemes in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre.