WaPo Skews Supreme Court Gun Story in Favor of Gun Ban Defenders

September 5th, 2007 4:15 PM

The District of Columbia is going to the Supreme Court to protect its 1976 law that effectively disarmed its crime-plagued law-abiding civilian populace. In addition to an editorial cheering on the appeal, Washington's largest broadsheet is all to happy to skew its front-page coverage accordingly.

In their September 5 article "D.C. Case Could Shape Gun Laws," reporters Robert Barnes and David Nakamura quoted from gun ban proponents Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) and D.C. Attorney General Linda Singer as they laid out their arguments for the gun ban. Only one opponent of the gun ban was quoted, and even then his ink was wasted on explaining his next move:

"We support the court granting [review] and plan on responding very quickly," said Alan Gura, one of the lawyers who brought the case. Both sides expect that the court could decide by November whether to hear the case, which would mean a decision could come by next summer.

Gura's "defense" of his lawsuit to end the gun ban was 13 paragraphs deep into the 22-paragraph article. By contrast, Fenty and Singer's fear-mongering about gun violence were front-loaded in the article, while Singer's petition to the high Court for review was quoted before the article jumped to page A5.

Singer made her debut in the front page article in paragraph 5, followed in short order by an alarmist paragraph from her petition to the Court and capped off by Fenty arguing the gun ban is necessary to reduce "gun violence":

"It is eminently reasonable to permit private ownership of other types of weapons, including shotguns and rifles, but ban the easily concealed and uniquely dangerous modern handgun," states the petition, filed by D.C. Attorney General Linda Singer. It adds: "Whatever right the Second Amendment guarantees, it does not require the District to stand by while its citizens die."

Most petitions for review focus on why the court should take the case, but the District's filing serves as more of a preview of its defense of the law, filled with statistics about gun violence and the harm caused to children, women and police officers.

"No other provision of the Bill of Rights even arguably requires a government to tolerate serious physical harm on anything like the scale of the devastation worked by handguns," the petition states.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) said at a news conference outside D.C. police headquarters that the law has strong support among District residents. "The only possible outcome of more handguns in the home is more violence," he said. "Our appeal will help the District of Columbia be able to continue to reduce gun violence."

Barnes and Nakamura did note that the gun ban in question requires rifles and shotguns in private homes "be unloaded and disassembled or bound by trigger locks." Yet while those stipulations render the weapons ineffective for home defense, the Post writers were unable, or more likely, unwilling to find a critic of the law who would decry those restrictions in print.

Indeed, the only hint of controversy on the storage requirements for long guns was a single sentence noting that the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals found the District's argument that the law's long gun storage provisions satisfied the 2nd Amendment's right to keep and bear arms "frivolous."

Having read the Post's skewed coverage, readers of the Post could find a five-paragraph editorial on page A20, "The District Appeals," calling for the Supreme Court to uphold D.C.'s gun ban and deal a blow for Second Amendment rights:

RARELY HAVE so few words provoked such fervent disagreement: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." More than 200 years after the founders crafted the Second Amendment, debate rages about what those 27 words mean. Do they guarantee an individual right to bear arms and thus forbid most gun control? Or do they only protect a state's right to form and maintain a militia and therefore allow weapons regulation?

The Supreme Court, which has not ruled on such a critical a gun rights case since 1939, should finally answer the question by taking up the appeal filed yesterday by the District. The appeal asks the justices to overturn a March decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that struck down as unconstitutional the District's handgun ban and its regulations that require long guns to be stored disassembled and unloaded. We support the appeal on legal and public policy grounds.

The D.C. Circuit's conclusion that the Second Amendment recognizes an individual right to bear arms is at odds with nine of the federal appeals courts to have formally weighed in on the question; it also contradicts the holding of the D.C. Court of Appeals, the highest "local" court in the District. The justices should step in to resolve this so-called circuit split and articulate a uniform, nationwide interpretation of the amendment.

Even if the amendment is read to bestow an individual right to bear arms, we believe that the law and public policy prerogatives allow for reasonable regulation. After all, virtually every other right guaranteed by the Constitution, including free speech, is subject to some limitation. And countless law enforcement officers and public officials have testified about the importance of gun control laws in limiting violent crime.

The justices may feel uncomfortable articulating national standards by ruling on a case out of the District -- an admittedly peculiar jurisdictional beast. In that case, we would hope that they at least rule narrowly to resolve the conflict between the D.C. Circuit and D.C. Court of Appeals. The residents of the District deserve that much at a minimum.