Judge Denies NRA Motion to Consolidate Pro-Gun Lawsuits

Jeff Johnson | Congressional Bureau Chief | Wednesday, July 9, 2003

Judge Denies NRA Motion to Consolidate Pro-Gun Lawsuits

Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com)- A federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has denied a motion by the National Rifle Association (NRA) to consolidate two lawsuits against D.C.'s virtual ban on civilian ownership and possession of firearms.

As CNSNews.com previously reported, the NRA's lawsuit - brought on behalf of Sandra Seegars, Gardine Hailes, Absalom Jordan, Jr., Carmela Brown and Robert Hemphill - claims that the D.C. gun ban violates the Second Amendment. But the Seegars suit also names four additional "causes of action" for the court to consider.

The NRA claims in the suit that the D.C. gun ban violates the Fifth Amendment protection against being deprived of property without due process, as well as the provision dealing with "equal protection" under the law. The group also argues that the D.C. measure violates the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and imposes regulations that are not "usual and reasonable" as required elsewhere in D.C. law.

D.C. residents Shelly Parker, Dick Anthony Heller, Tom Palmer, Gillian St. Lawrence, Tracey Ambeau and George Lyon had filed a separate lawsuit on Feb. 10, claiming only that the District of Columbia and D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams violated their constitutional right to own and possess firearms under the Second Amendment by maintaining and enforcing a de facto ban on private ownership of guns.

Robert Levy, a Georgetown University law professor and constitutional scholar at the Cato Institute, told CNSNews.com it is important that the D.C. District Court hear a "pure" Second Amendment case.

"After all, the whole purpose here is to establish not only the right of these plaintiffs in this case to be able to carry guns in Washington, D.C.," Levy said, "but also that there is, indeed, an individual right to keep and bear arms that's secured by the Second Amendment."

Opponents of private gun ownership argue that the Second Amendment protects only the right of the states to "collectively" organize and arm a militia. Supporters of private firearms ownership counter that, like all of the other amendments in the Bill of Rights, the Second Amendment guarantees the specific right to own and carry firearms to individual citizens, as Levy mentioned.

NRA attorneys wanted to combine the Seegars suit with the Parker action. The Parker plaintiffs filed a motion on May 1 to block the proposed consolidation.

On Tuesday, Judge Emmet G. Sullivan ruled against the NRA.

"Consolidation of the two cases would require resolution of complex attorney-client ethical and professional responsibility issues prior to any attempt to resolve the underlying substantive issues," Sullivan wrote. "Accordingly, in an effort to avoid any protracted delay in the resolution of the merits in either case, the Court will not consolidate the two cases."

NRA spokesman Ted Novin remained positive about the group's underlying suit.

"This ruling does not affect our case and ability to represent law-abiding gun owners," he said.

Gene Healy, a Cato Institute senior editor actively involved in the Parker case, was more excited.

"It means that...our lawsuit, which is a straight-up Second Amendment challenge to the District of Columbia's gun ban, can go forward," he explained, "and can be decided on the simple, straight-forward and pressing issue of whether the Second Amendment protects a 'collective right' or an individual right."

Levy is uncertain about the potential outcome at the district court level but feels his client's chances are good to defeat the D.C. gun ban at the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. If that happens, that decision would be at odds with at least one other circuit that has ruled in favor of the "collective rights" theory.

Such a conflict would help the chances of the Parker case being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. Levy believes the Parker case has "much better facts" for a Supreme Court hearing than any other in recent history.

"We're not talking in our case about [something like] an 'assault weapons' ban," he said. "We're talking about carrying a pistol within your own home to be able to defend yourself if somebody breaks in and wants to harm you or your family or your property."

All of the necessary documents have been filed for the D.C. District Court to make an initial decision on the Parker case. Levy said a decision could come at any time. He does not expect a lengthy trial because the case concerns only "matters of law" rather than "questions of fact."

E-mail a news tip to Jeff Johnson.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.