This is the final part of a three part series on DC gun laws. In the first part, I discussed the current state of DC gun laws and how its important to challenge current gun charges on the basis of the law’s unconstitutionality. The second part discussed the process for attempting to withdraw a guilty plea on a gun conviction under the District’s old law and weighed the pros and cons of trying to withdraw a guilty plea. This final part discusses the class action lawsuit filed by Scrofano Law PC and the Law Office of William Claiborne.
In Smith et al v. District of Columbia, we argue that after Palmer was decided, the District government should not have continued to prosecute gun offenses. We argue that the government’s prosecution of unconstitutional gun laws violated plaintiffs’ Second Amendment rights. In addition, we argue that the seizure of guns violated the plaintiffs’ Fifth Amendment rights. As previously discussed, a typical scenario that occurs in the District of Columbia is a law abiding out of state resident visiting the District who is unaware of the District’s draconian gun laws gets pulled over for a minor traffic violation. That person tells the law enforcement officer that she has a gun in the vehicle—as one is typically trained to do in gun safety courses. Then, the officer arrests that person and charges them with a felony gun crime.
In the past, the best outcome you could typically hope for was a misdemeanor plea agreement to avoid a felony conviction. Palmer changed things for at least a period of time. Palmer declared the District’s gun laws unconstitutional and many cases got dismissed. However, after Palmer was decided the District government continued to prosecute folks—including out of state residents with lawfully registered firearms in their home state for misdemeanor registration offenses. However, because Palmer declared that the District’s absolute ban on carrying a pistol violated the Second Amendment, we believe the then-existing registration scheme was also unconstitutional.
We argue the registration scheme was unconstitutional in at least two ways. First, it made District residency a requirement for registration. That mean none of the folks arrested who had lawful firearms from their home state could not ever carry in the District solely on the basis of their non-residency. Second, no mechanism existed to register a firearm for the purpose of carrying. Palmer recognized that the Second Amendment includes the right to carry for self-defense not just the right to possess a firearm in the home for self-defense. Furthermore, this whole process of prosecuting individuals from out-of-state is particularly onerous considering the District government expends no resources to create awareness of its strict gun laws. There are no signs on the metro telling people not to bring their guns into the city. There are no commercials and no billboards. Hundreds if not thousands of innocent non-residents have unknowingly ran afoul of these laws and became felons and misdemeanants.
Carrying a pistol is not like a DUI for example where everyone knows it’s a crime to drink and drive. Many individuals mistakenly believe that if something is legal in their home state, it is legal in other states or the District. We believe the people who were arrested and prosecuted under these unconstitutional laws deserve compensation for the damages they suffered.