Meet the Libertarians Who Keep Beating D.C.’s Gun Laws in Court

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 28 2014 4:53 PM

Meet the Libertarians Who Keep Beating D.C.’s Gun Laws in Court

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Guns not quite a-blazing in D.C.

Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

At the end of last week, Senior District Court Judge Frederick Scullin Jr. handed a huge victory to D.C.'s outnumbered supporters of unfettered Second Amendment rights. The district's handgun restrictions, wrote Scullin, flew in the face of precedent. "In light of Heller, McDonald, and their progeny," wrote Scullin, referring to other cases that rolled back the gun laws, "there is no longer any basis on which this Court can conclude that the District of Columbia's total ban on the public carrying of ready-to-use handguns outside the home is constitutional under any level of scrutiny." The District was violating the Constitution by refusing to let people from other states open-carry or conceal-carry their guns. Just days before, an unlucky South Carolina activist had been arrested for trying to take his loaded Ruger into the Capitol. The people's Capitol. (It was an accident.)

Yet on my ride in to work today, I saw no fellow citizens carrying guns. The reasons are simple—it's still hard to get a gun license in the city, the city is readying an appeal and a request for a stay, and in the meantime police are being advised to "record any relevant information" about, and check the criminal background of, anyone they spot with a gun. For now, Palmer v. District of Columbia is mostly interesting as the second example in just a few days of libertarian lawyers dunking on the liberal state. Tom Palmer, listed first among the plaintiffs, is the director of the libertarian Cato University program, and a vice president of the Atlas Network.* He was a plaintiff in the Heller case, too; in attorney Alan Gura's words, he was "a gay man who had previously, in California, fended off a hate crime using a firearm that he happened to have on him." Just as the attorneys in Halbig found conservatives who were eager to sue, they could find ready, liberty-minded skeptics of D.C.'s gun laws.

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These people are relatively rare in D.C., until you enter the halls of Congress. (Assuming you don't try to enter while carrying a gun.) Kentucky Rep. Tom Massie, a libertarian-minded Ron Paul acolyte who wants to defund D.C.'s gun laws in the current appropriations bill, has declared this case a clear victory. Certainly, as libertarian counterattacks go, it's more effective and less personally harmful than Adam Kokesh's.

*Correction: I originally wrote that Tom Palmer worked at "the Randian Atlas Society." There is an Atlas Society, and it is Randian, but Palmer works at the Atlas Network, which is unrelated.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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