Respondent's Brief in DC v. Heller:

On Monday, the brief for Respondent was filed in DC v. Heller, the Supreme Court's case involving the DC handgun ban. The brief for Petitioners (DC and Mayor Fenty) is here.

The first portions of each brief raise textual and historical arguments. DC argues that the preamble of the Second Amendment ("a well-regulated militia") controls and limits the main clause ("the right of the people"). DC emphasizes that militias are subject to limitless state control.

The Heller brief offers well-known rules of construction from the Founding Era to argue that a preamble doesn't limit the main clause. Both sides quote Marbury v. Madison. The Heller brief contains a great deal of American history, partly based on David Young's new book The Founders' View of the Right to Bear Arms (2007), which presents General Gage's disarmament of the citizens of Boston as one of the key causes of the decision of Americans to finally resort to armed revolution, and as the kind of abuse which the Founders wanted to prevent in the new nation.

The DC brief spends a significant amount of words arguing that, even if the Second Amendment applies to ordinary citizens, it does not apply in DC. The argument is predicated on "necessary to the security of a free State" being a reference to state governments, not a free polity. Respondent's brief gives short shrift to this argument, citing various cases that governance of the District of Columbia is controlled by various parts of the Constitution which only limit (or used to only limit) Congress, and not state governments. Eugene Volokh's Notre Dame L. Rev. article "Necessary to the Secureity of a Free State," collects every use of "a free state" during the Founding Era, and shows that the phrase was a term of art which was used only to mean "a free polity" and never to mean "a free American state government."

DC presents more social science data than does the Heller brief, which confines itself to some quick rebuttals. On both sides, the in-depth debate in social science is in the amicus briefs. (More on those next week, after the pro-Heller amici file on Monday.)

DC's gun lock law literally requires that all guns in the home (rifles, shotguns, or pre-1977 handguns owned pursuant to a grandfathering clause) be locked up or disassembled at all times. The locking law makes an exception for guns on business premises and for guns being used in sporting activities. DC concedes that a ban on use of long guns for self-defense in the home would be unconstitutional, but argues that the functional firearms ban must contain an implicit self-defense exception. DC points to a case where a court found that a duress exception must exist in an another law.

Heller retorts by pointing to the 1977 D.C. Court of Appeals (the District's equivalent of a state supreme court) case of McIntosh v. Washington. In that case, the Court of Appeals upheld the self-defense ban as an intended feature, not a bug, of the District's new gun law.

Both briefs are very well-written, and merit study by any law student or lawyer looking for good examples of persuasive brief-writing on sophisticated topics.