Image: Adrian Fenty
Jacquelyn Martin  /  AP
District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty, right, announced Monday at a news conference in Washington that the city will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a lower-court ruling overturning a 30-year law banning handguns in private homes.
updated 7/16/2007 8:10:43 PM ET 2007-07-17T00:10:43

District of Columbia officials said Monday they will ask the Supreme Court to preserve the city's 30-year-old ban on private ownership of handguns that was struck down by a lower court earlier this year.

If it chooses to take the case, the high court could end its long silence on the scope of individual gun rights under the Second Amendment, a prospect welcomed by both sides of the gun debate.

A federal appeals court panel overturned the ban in March, concluding that the city's broad gun law was unconstitutional. In deciding to fight that ruling, Mayor Adrian Fenty said public safety was paramount in a city plagued by gun violence even after the law was enacted in 1976.

"The handgun ban in the District of Columbia has saved many lives since then and will continue to do so if it remains enforced," he said, surrounded by top city police officials and politicians.

Unclear odds
The odds of the Supreme Court taking the case are unclear. The high court has not directly ruled on the Second Amendment in nearly 70 years and chose not to take up a 2003 case that challenged California's ban on assault weapons.

If the court rules against the district, it could affect tough gun laws in other cities and states. Several other jurisdictions, including Massachusetts, Maryland, Chicago and San Francisco, supported D.C. in the lower court cases, according to city Attorney General Linda Singer.

"We believe we are right on the law, and we hope the Supreme Court will agree with us," she said.

Washington's gun law bars residents from keeping handguns in their homes and prohibits the carrying of a gun without a license. Registered firearms such as rifles and shotguns must be kept unloaded and disassembled or fitted with trigger locks.

The law remains in effect during the appeals process, but if the Supreme Court refuses to take the case, the lower court ruling overturning the city law would go into effect, forcing D.C. to rewrite its gun laws.

Other appeals refused
Six plaintiffs sued in 2003, including a police officer whose application to own a gun in his home was denied and a woman who said she was harassed by drug dealers when she tried to get them to leave her neighborhood. They and gun rights advocates say the handgun law prevents residents from protecting themselves against crime.

The city argued the Second Amendment's gun language applied only to the rights of states to maintain citizen militias and does not cover the ability of citizens to own handguns privately for other purposes.

But a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled 2-1 against the city. It concluded ownership of guns is an individual right that extends beyond merely preparation for service in a militia. It was the first time a federal appeals court struck down gun control regulations on Second Amendment grounds. The full appeals court refused to reconsider the decision in May.

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