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Media Alerts - Heller v. District of Columbia - D.C. Circuit
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September 22, 2015
  Heller v. District of Columbia - D.C. Circuit
Headline: Divided D.C. Circuit partially upholds gun registration requirements

Area of Law: Second Amendment

Issue(s) Presented: Whether the District of Columbia's firearms licensing regime violates the Second Amendment.

Brief Summary: In June 2008 the Supreme Court held the District of Columbia laws restricting the possession of firearms in one's home violated the Second Amendment right of individuals to keep and bear arms. District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570. In the wake of that decision, the District amended the Firearms Registration Amendment Act of 2008 (FRA), D.C. Law 17-372, imposing myriad registration and licensing requirements for handguns and long guns and banning "assault weapons" and large-capacity magazines. Appellant Heller challenged those restrictions, arguing that the District of Columbia lacked the legislative authority to impose them and that the restrictions violated the Second Amendment of the Unites States Constitution. In 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, applying intermediate scrutiny, held that the District had the authority to promulgate the challenged gun laws and upheld the basic firearm registration scheme for handguns and the prohibitions on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines as constitutional. Heller v. Dist. of Columbia (Heller II), 670 F.3d 1244 (D.C. Cir. 2011). The D.C. Circuit remanded the registration requirement for long guns, as well as certain conditions of the registration requirements, for consideration by the district court.

In the interim, the D.C. Council enacted the Firearms Amendment Act of 2012, D.C. Law 19-170, which repealed certain of the conditions for registration, such as the requirement that a pistol be submitted for ballistic identification as part of the registration process, and reduced the burden upon registrants imposed by other provisions. However, the amended law retained the requirements that registrants appear in person to be fingerprinted and photographed, pay certain fees, complete a firearms safety and training course or provide evidence of another form of training, and pass a test to demonstrate knowledge of D.C. firearms laws, among others, to register a firearm. Heller filed an amended complaint to take account of those legislative changes. The district court granted summary judgment to the District, and Heller again appealed.

As a preliminary matter, Heller challenged the expert reports and testimony that the District presented in support of the registration requirements, arguing that they fell short of the disclosure requirements of Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(a) and that the testimony was too unreliable to be admitted under Fed. R. Evid, 702. A divided panel of the D.C. Circuit held that the District had sufficiently disclosed the bases for the witnesses' opinions to avoid any unfair surprise, and that any concerns about the reliability of the testimony went to its weight, not its admissibility. The court also held that imposing basic registration requirements on long guns placed only a de minimis burden on registrants and did not implicate the Second Amendment.

The court concluded that the District had a substantial interest in promoting public safety and had presented sufficient evidence that some, but not all, of the registration requirements furthered that interest to survive intermediate scrutiny. The court upheld the requirement that registrants appear in person to be photographed and fingerprinted at the time of registration, the imposition of reasonable registration fees, and the requirement that all registrants take a firearms safety class, concluding that they directly and materially advanced public safety. However, the court found that the District had not produced substantial evidence showing that the requirement for registrants to bring the firearm to the Metropolitan Police Department in order to register it, re-register the firearm every three years, and pass a test on D.C. firearms law, as well as the "one-pistol-per month" rule, promoted public safety and ruled them unconstitutional.

Judge Henderson dissented in part, arguing that all the restrictions would satisfy intermediate scrutiny.

For the full text of the opinion, please see

Panel (if known): Henderson, Millett, Ginsburg

Argument Date (if known): April 20, 2015

Date of Issued Opinion: September 28, 2015

Docket Number: 14-7071

Decided: Affirmed in part

Case Alert Author: Ripple Weistling

Author of Opinion: Ginsburg

Dissent: Henderson

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Elizabeth Earle Beske, Ripple Weistling

    Posted By: Ripple Weistling @ 09/22/2015 08:27 AM     DC Circuit  

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