Thursday, September 25, 2008

I Got to Meet Alan Gura Today

This afternoon I had the pleasure of meeting Alan Gura, Dick Anthony Heller's attorney in the Supreme Court's landmark case, District of Columbia vs. Heller.  This was at the Pennsylvania Bar Institute's continuing legal education program, "The Right to Bear Arms."

The program today consisted of a debate between Mr. Gura and Brian Siebel from the Brady Center to Prevent Handgun violence.  The general topic of the debate was over the meaning of the Heller decision.  For example, now that the Supreme Court has declared that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms, what exactly does this mean?  What arms are protected?  Is the right limited to the home or does it extend to carrying arms in public?  Will the Second Amendment be incorporated against the states?  Assuming that the Second Amendment is incorporated, what state laws might be struck down as unconstitutional?

Based on Heller, Gura believes that some gun control laws will be held constitutional, but that outright bans -- including any "assault weapons bans" -- will be struck down.  It's his opinion that it will eventually lead to a right to carry in some manner, maybe concealed, maybe open carry.  E.g., it might be permissible for a state to bar concealed carry so long as open carry was legal (or the reverse).

Regarding machineguns, Gura does not believe that Heller will lead to getting rid of the NFA, but not because that the Second Amendment doesn't protect machineguns, but rather because he doesn't believe that we can get judges to rule that it protects machineguns.  In other words, regardless of how gun rights activist view the issue, he feels that it's a loosing argument in the courts.  I tend to agree with him.

Gura also feels that laws requiring background checks will probably pass consititutional muster, as long as they are instant.  Waiting periods will likely be struck down.

I asked Gura was whether he thought that Heller could lead to a loosening of restrictions on lesser arms, namely switchblade knives.  He thinks it may, and mentioned that in fact, some state courts have struck down laws banning certain kinds of knives and clubs based on RKBA provisions.  He didn't list any specific cases, however.  Siebel, in contrast, mentioned that this was the first time he'd heard of anyone applying the Second Amendment to knives, and didn't really opine either way.

I thought that Gura did a fine job of explaining the case and its potential implications.  He also said a couple of times that we're in the beginning of this fight (paraphrasing here).  On the other hand, Siebel did little more than rehash old, discredited prohibitionist arguments in favor of gun control, including statistics purporting to show that having a handgun in the home is more dangerous to the occupants than a potential burglar.  He also placed a lot of emphasis on Scalia's wording referring to the Second Amendment protecting the right to bear arms in defense of one's home.  This of course ignores the fact that in the case what was at issue was whether Heller could get a gun permit from D.C. to keep a self defense gun at home.  Carrying a gun outside the home was not at issue in the case, so the court did not rule on that particular question.

As an aside, at one point in the session Siebel asked for a show of hands from the attendees indicating support for background checks as being reasonable.  Of the twenty or thirty attendees, only one or two raised their hands.  Heh.

After the class was over I went up to Gura and thanked him for the job he's done on our behalf.  Kudos to the PBI for hosting this class.

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