A Woman’s Right
One woman’s fight to bear arms.
By Robert A.
Like many crime-ridden
cities, Washington, D.C. has not been able to keep guns
away from the violent street gangs. But the city's success
in disarming responsible, law-abiding residents has been
remarkable. No handgun can be registered in D.C. Even those
few pistols registered a quarter of a century ago, prior
to the district's 1976 ban, cannot be carried from room
to room without a license. All firearms in the home, including
rifles and shotguns, must be unloaded and either disassembled
or bound by a trigger lock. In effect, no one in the district
can possess a functional firearm in his own residence. Naturally,
the criminal class, undeterred by laws against murder and
robbery, isn't likely to be cowed by gun regulations. But
honest, peaceable citizens will obey the regulations, and
therein lies the problem.
Shelly Parker is one of those citizens. She resides in a
high-crime neighborhood in the heart of D.C. People living
on her block are harassed relentlessly by drug dealers and
addicts. Ms. Parker decided to do something about it. She
called the police — time and again — then encouraged her
neighbors to do the same. She organized block meetings to
discuss the problem. For her audacity, Shelly Parker was
labeled a troublemaker by the dealers, who threatened her
at every opportunity. This past June, the back window of
her car was broken. The following month, a large rock came
through her front window. Her security camera was stolen
from the outside of her house. A drug user drove his car
into her back fence.
of this year, a dealer known as "Nanook" started
banging on her door and tried to pry his way into her house,
repeatedly yelling, "Bitch, I'll kill you, I live on
this block too." Nanook was eventually arrested. He
may be prosecuted. But Ms. Parker knows that the police
are "not going to do very much about the drug problem
on my block." That's why she wants to have a functional
handgun in her home for self-defense — just a garden-variety
pistol, not a machine gun or assault weapon like the gangs
are able to acquire without blinking an eye.
and countless other D.C. residents should be able to defend
themselves. They're not asking to carry a weapon outdoors
on the city's drug-infested streets, where the sound of
bullets regularly mocks the nation's strictest gun ban.
Their needs are more basic: a pistol where they live, so
they can defend their property, their families, and their
Yet if Parker
has a handgun in her bedroom, she could face criminal penalties
— arrest, prosecution, fine, even incarceration — because
of the District's preposterous gun laws. Upstanding citizens
who reside in D.C., pay taxes in D.C., and obey D.C. laws
are too often the victims of criminal predators. Still,
the city insists that if someone breaks into their houses,
their only choice is to call 911 and pray that help gets
there in time. Anyone who's ever used the city's emergency
phone service knows that a pizza can be delivered before
the police show up.
fight for the right of self-defense is now being litigated
in a Washington, D.C. federal court. On behalf of Ms. Parker
and five other at-risk residents, three attorneys and I
filed a civil lawsuit, Parker v. District of Columbia, challenging
the D.C. gun ban on Second Amendment grounds. The plaintiffs
do not contend that Second Amendment rights are absolute.
Surely, guns can be denied to unfit persons like felons,
minors, and the mentally incompetent. And, of course, it's
reasonable to keep massively destructive weapons, with little
practical use for self-defense, out of private hands. But
otherwise, according to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the
Fifth Circuit, the Constitution "protects the right
of individuals ... to privately possess and bear their own
the position of U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and
an impressive array of legal scholars, including Harvard's
liberal icon, Laurence Tribe, and Yale's highly respected
Akhil Amar. They agree on two fundamental propositions:
The Second Amendment confers an individual right to bear
arms; but that right is subject to reasonable regulation.
To the extent there's disagreement, it hinges on what constitutes
reasonable regulation; that is, where to draw the line.
On that score, there can be no question that D.C.'s blanket
prohibitions are patently unreasonable. That's why Shelly
Parker is finally going to win her fight for the right to
— Robert A. Levy is senior
fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute.