After passing one of the most expansive “ghost gun” prohibitions in the country, D.C. is pulling back in the face of a legal challenge from Dick Heller.
The council voted to amend the city’s current law by a vote of 12-1 on Tuesday, on the recommendation of D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D.). The changes provide an avenue for lawful gun owners to make their own firearms and allow polymer-framed guns to remain legal. The action satisfies most of the demands in the suit Heller, whose 2008 suit against D.C.’s total handgun ban resulted in a landmark Supreme Court ruling, filed against the city.
Heller said he was pleased with the city changing course. He said “mankind has always needed and had weapons,” and D.C. can not “mandate one’s weapon must come from a big factory.” He argued the city’s attempt to ban homemade guns is a violation of the Second Amendment.
“The Heller no. 4 case was filed because municipalities continue to whimsically, yet creatively, create Road Blocks to our Constitutional Rights to be armed,” Heller told The Reload in a statement.
The changes made by the city are a significant departure from the bill’s initial language. The original bill outlawed the manufacture of firearms within the district. It also defined “ghost guns” in a way that could be construed to include popular commercial polymer-frame handguns, such as Glock pistols. Heller and the other plaintiffs in the case accused the city of effectively outlawing the guns it issues to its police officers.
“The District legislation in question is so poorly thought out and written that the City Council has managed to criminalize the possession of a vast array of popular, common handguns that it regularly allows residents to register, including the very handgun it issues to its police officers,” the suit said.
With its amended language, the new act now outlaws any gun that “is not as detectable” by “walk-through metal detectors,” which is in line with current federal law. It also contains a provision allowing residents to make firearms for personal use, so long as the produced gun is not otherwise prohibited and the manufacturer registers the weapon with a unique serial number.
Heller said the case is part of the “same pattern” as his three previous suits against the city’s gun laws.
“In Heller-I, ‘I just wanted to keep the gun I owned to protect my household,'” he said. “The city said ‘NO.’ Repeat that 16 times for the number of elements in Heller-II and Heller-III. Heller-4 is simply that I want to MAKE the next self-defense gun that I care to own instead of buying it in the store.”
Still, he was willing to compromise on the serial number requirement.
“We have no interest in violating federal law. I’m happy to put a ‘DH-1’ serial number on it [helps in court cases] and, at the moment, register it,” Heller said.
George L. Lyon Jr., the lawyer representing Heller in the suit against the city, responded positively to the city council’s actions.
“If this does ultimately become law, then it does address my concerns,” he told The Washington Post. “It appears they are trying to fix the problems.”
However, Heller said the legal fight is not over yet.
“D.C. only passed an emergency measure; it still has to permanently repeal the offending provisions,” he said, “and I still have a claim for monetary damages for the violation of my Second Amendment rights.”
The council’s clarifications to the ghost gun law were approved temporarily. If the amended law goes into effect, the council will have up to 225 days to make the changes permanent after more thorough legislative proceedings.
The law now heads to Mayor Muriel Bowser (D.) for approval. The Mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Heller said building a gun is a right, and politicians who try to restrain it should be held responsible.
“A person can build what they want in their garage, boat, furniture, car, firearm, airplane, anything else,” Heller said. “City council members and legislators everywhere need to be held liable, personally, for these infringements.”
Stephen Gutowski contributed to this report.