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Lawyer Who Wiped Out D.C. Ban Says It's About Liberties, Not Guns
By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 18, 2007; Page A01
Meet the lawyer who conceived the lawsuit that gutted the District's tough gun-control statute this month. Meet the lawyer who recruited a group of strangers to sue the city and bankrolled their successful litigation out of his own pocket.
Meet Robert A. Levy, staunch defender of the Second Amendment, a wealthy former entrepreneur who said he has never owned a firearm and probably never will. "I don't actually want a gun," Levy said by phone last week from his residence, a $1.7 million condominium in a Gulf Coast high-rise. "I mean, maybe I'd want a gun if I was living on Capitol Hill. Or in Anacostia somewhere. But I live in Naples, Florida, in a gated community. I don't feel real threatened down here."

He is 65, a District native who left the city 40 years ago for Montgomery County, a self-made millionaire who thinks the government interferes too much with people's liberties. He was an investment analyst before he sold his company for a fortune and enrolled in law school at age 49. Now he's a constitutional fellow with the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington, working in his luxury condo 1,000 miles away.

It was his idea, his project, his philosophical mission to mount a legal challenge to the city's "draconian" gun restrictions, which are among the toughest in the nation. The statute offends his libertarian principles, Levy said. And it is entirely his money behind the lawsuit that led a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to strike down the statute this month, a ruling that stunned D.C. officials and gun-control advocates. The city said it will appeal the decision.

Levy, who moved to Florida two years ago, explained in an interview why he initiated the case, with Cato's blessing; why he has rejected offers of financial help, insisting on footing the bills himself; how he and a co-counsel searched for and vetted potential plaintiffs, finally settling on a diverse group of six people; and why he thinks letting D.C. residents keep loaded guns in their homes would not make the city a more dangerous place.

"By the way, I'm not a member of any of those pro-gun groups," he said. "I don't travel in those circles. My interest is in vindicating the Constitution."
Before they filed the lawsuit in February 2003, arguing that the city's gun statute violates the Second Amendment's language on the right to bear arms, Levy and Clark M. Neily III, a public-interest lawyer, spent months carefully assembling a cast of plaintiffs, Levy said.

"We wanted gender diversity," he said. "We wanted racial diversity, economic diversity, age diversity." The plaintiffs had to be D.C. residents who believed fervently in gun rights and wanted loaded weapons in their homes for self-defense. And they had to be respectable.

"No Looney Tunes," Levy said. "You know, you don't want the guy who just signed up for the militia. And no criminal records. You want law-abiding citizens."
He and Neily worked the phones. "We called all our contacts in the legal community," Levy said. "We looked at the newspapers: Who was writing on the subject? Who was sending letters to the editor about gun laws?" They scoured the city. "Friends lead you to other friends, and you just keep talking and talking to people, until finally you have your clients."

They found dozens of likely plaintiffs, Levy said. They went with three men and three women, from their mid-20s to early 60s, four of them white and two black. They found a mortgage broker from Georgetown and a neighborhood activist in a crime-scarred area of Northeast Washington. They also lined up a communications lawyer, a government office worker and a courthouse security guard. In their disparate walks of life, the six shared an eagerness to arm themselves.

Levy knew only one of them: Tom G. Palmer, 50, a Cato colleague who is gay. Years ago in California, Palmer said, he brandished a pistol to scare off several men who he feared were about to attack him because of his sexual orientation. He said he wants to be able to legally defend himself in his Washington home.

With some exceptions for police officers and others, the D.C. statute bars residents from owning handguns unless they were registered before 1976, the year the law was enacted. And it requires people with registered rifles or shotguns in their homes to keep them unloaded and either disassembled or fitted with trigger locks, meaning they cannot legally be used for self-defense.

"Ridiculous," Levy said.
In a 2 to 1 decision issued March 9, the appellate panel agreed with the plaintiffs that the gun restrictions violate the Second Amendment. The statute remains in effect, at least temporarily, while attorneys for the city consider their next legal move. The case could be headed to the Supreme Court, and it could affect other strict gun laws across the country.

Levy, who is mainly a writer and lecturer, is one of three plaintiff's attorneys in the case, his first direct involvement in litigation since he graduated from George Mason University law school in 1994, when he was 53. One of his co-counsels, Neily, is working on the lawsuit for free. The other, Alan Gura, a high-priced civil litigation specialist, was hired by Levy to serve as lead counsel and argue the case in court.

"To take something like this all the way through the Supreme Court, you're talking about several hundred thousand dollars," Levy said. But because Gura is charging a reduced rate, "it hasn't been nearly that much." Levy wouldn't cite a figure but said it was "a considerable sum." Whatever the price, he said, "happily, I'm in a position to pay it."

When the D.C. Council passed the restrictions three decades ago, it was trying to curb gun violence. Supporters of the law warn that if the appellate ruling stands and the District is forced to enact a weaker statute, permitting loaded weapons in homes, more shootings are sure to result, by accident and on purpose. Meanwhile, if pistols become legal in homes, many residents probably would acquire them, giving thieves more guns to steal and sell on the streets.
Like other critics of the law, Levy cites the District's annual triple-digit homicide totals and its "ridiculously high rate of crime" in the past 30 years as evidence that the statute has not made Washington safer. Its only impact, he said, has been to disarm honest residents in their homes, leaving them vulnerable in a violent city.

To Levy the libertarian, though, the effectiveness of the law -- its success or failure in curbing crime -- isn't the core issue. What matters most to him is whether the statute unjustly infringes on personal liberties. He doesn't dispute that "reasonable" gun controls are permissible under the Second Amendment. But the District's law amounts to "an outright prohibition," Levy said, and "that offends my constitutional sensibilities."
So he opened his wallet and did something about it.

Because of his and Tom Palmer's involvement in the case, Levy said, a mistaken impression has spread that the Cato Institute instigated the lawsuit. "They love this case and they've been very, very supportive," he said. But Cato is a think tank, not a law firm, and hasn't so much as filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case. "This is my venture," Levy said.

The lawsuit failed last year in U.S. District Court, prompting the appeal that succeeded this month. Although gun-rights advocates and other organizations have offered to aid the case financially, Levy said, "I've taken nothing. Zero." The reason: "I don't want this portrayed as litigation that the gun community is sponsoring. . . . I don't want to be beholden to anyone. I want to call the shots, with my co-counsel."

He can afford to.

In the interview, Levy recalled his working-class roots in the Petworth area of Northwest Washington, where his parents ran a small hardware store. If there was a gun under the counter or in their home, he said, he never saw it.
After getting a doctorate in business from American University in 1966, he left the city for Silver Spring and started a company in his home: CDA Investment Technologies. Using the limited computer power available then, CDA analyzed and reported on the performances of securities, money managers and institutional portfolios.

Business boomed. By 1986, when he sold the company to a Dutch publishing giant, CDA had offices in Rockville, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Tokyo and London. The terms of the deal weren't disclosed, but Levy said he got plenty.
"Selling it allowed me to pursue whatever new opportunities I wanted to pursue without any financial pressures at all," he said. He decided to get a law degree and indulge his longtime interest in public policy. He had been contributing money to the Cato Institute for years, and in 1997, Cato hired him as a fellow, giving him a pulpit from which to espouse his views on limited government and the sanctity of personal freedoms.
The Second Amendment is just one of his areas of interest, and not the biggest one, Levy said. The right of the people to keep and bear arms isn't a right he ever needed to exercise.

"Even when I lived up there, I didn't live in D.C.," he said. "I lived in Chevy Chase, in a high-rise that was secure. And before that in Potomac. Not exactly high-risk areas."

The Chevy Chase high-rise is in Montgomery County. Levy and his wife sold the condo two years ago for $2.6 million and moved to Naples. They spend summers in their million-dollar home in Lake Biltmore, N.C., a resort area in the southwest corner of the state.

He said he visits Washington about once a month, but he steers clear of the neighborhood where he grew up. "Today it's an area of drug sales, a lot of crime," he said.

"I mean, where my dad's store was, you don't want to walk around there at night anymore."
 

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"By the way, I'm not a member of any of those pro-gun groups,"

Wonder if there's any chance this guy might want to join this particular pro-gun group?

We could certainly use his experience and expertise, eventhough we have our own in-house counsel. But, far more importantly, we could sure as hell use his money...

So, who wants to send him an invitation to join our merrie band?
 

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I did not read this article until tonight. I am very impressed with him. Of course, everybody thinks it is a Cato Institute lawsuit because that is what the press releases and articles at the web site say . . .
 

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Malum Prohibitum said:
I did not read this article until tonight. I am very impressed with him. Of course, everybody thinks it is a Cato Institute lawsuit because that is what the press releases and articles at the web site say . . .
Thats just the pro-gun people saying it is a Cato lawsuit. The Anti's are blaming the NRA (there usual knee-jerk reaction to anything pro-gun).
 

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Mr. Gura,

Congratulations on the great result in the Parker case, which I hope will be taken up by the Supreme Court. I have a question about the current enforcement of the DC law, however. Was the Circuit Court's judgment reversing the District Court stayed for some reason? Has DC filed a brief requesintg an en banc re-hearing? What exactly is it that permits D.C. to publicly state they will continue to enforce a law that has been declared unconstitutional?

For what it is worth, I am an attorney in Atlanta, and I am also the President of GeorgiaCarry.Org (which you can find at the internet address that is the same as the name). GCO has several lawsuits going in both federal and state courts, mostly focused on Georgia specific issues respecting the right to keep and bear arms.

Thanks you for your time in considering my question, and thank you for the work you have performed on this case.
 

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:righton:
 

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Way to go MP !!!!!!!!!!!

As usual, thoughtful, concise and well written. Nicely done.

.
 

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More from Robert Levy:

Robert A. Levy: Should Congress or the courts decide D.C. gun ban’s fate?
Apr 3, 2007 3:00 AM
by Robert A. Levy, The Examiner
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Current rank: # 9 of 23,482

WASHINGTON (Map, News) - Could the National Rifle Association and its allies in Congress be undermining the best pro-gun case ever likely to be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court?

More than four years ago, three attorneys and I filed Parker v. District of Columbia, a Second Amendment case on behalf of six local residents who want to defend themselves in their own homes.

For reasons that remain unclear, we faced repeated attempts by the NRA to derail the litigation. Happily, the case survived. On March 9, in a blockbuster opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit overturned the city’s gun ban â€" holding that “the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms.â€

Parker is the first federal appellate decision to invalidate a gun control statute on Second Amendment grounds. Federal circuit courts covering 47 states have held that there’s no recourse under the Second Amendment when state and local gun regulations are challenged. That means Parker could be headed to the Supreme Court.

Enter Congress and the NRA. First, Reps. Mike Ross, D-Ark., and Mark Souder, R-Ind., introduced the D.C. Personal Protection Act. Then, on March 28, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, followed suit in the Senate. Both bills, pushed hard by the NRA, would repeal the D.C. gun ban.

Ordinarily, that might be a good thing. But passage of the bills would kill the Parker litigation. It isn’t possible to challenge a law that has been repealed. Yet, Sen. Hutchison claims in her press release that she favors “both a legislative and judicial remedy. I hope the Parker case goes before the Supreme Court and that the court asserts that the right to bear arms is an individual, and not a collective, right. ...â€

Incredible.

When asked to clarify the NRA’s position, CEO Wayne LaPierre told us in a private meeting, “You can take it to the bank. The NRA will not do anything to prevent the Supreme Court from reviewing Parker.â€

Maybe so, but actions speak louder than words. The NRA’s aggressive promotion of the D.C. Personal Protection Act is baffling at best.

Parker is a much better vehicle to vindicate Second Amendment rights than an act of Congress. First, legislative repeal of the D.C. gun ban will not stop criminal defense attorneys and Public Defenders from citing the Second Amendment when they challenge “felon in possession†charges. Thus, if Parker is derailed, the next Second Amendment case to reach the Supreme Court could feature a murderer or drug dealer instead of six law-abiding citizens.

Second, a bill aimed at D.C. does only part of the job. It could be repealed by a more liberal Congress. And it will have no effect on state law outside of D.C. In effect, those who support the D.C. Personal Protection Act will be opposing an unambiguous Supreme Court proclamation on the Second Amendment, applicable across the nation.

Third, the Supreme Court is more conservative today than it’s been for some time, and probably more conservative than it’s going to be. In the unlikely event that five current justices decide to read the Second Amendment out of the Constitution by upholding a total ban on handguns, that would be the time for Congress to act. Until then, the D.C. Personal Protection Act is premature and counter-productive.

Meanwhile, if Congress wants to help, there are positive things it can do. D.C. has no federal firearms licensees. And handguns, unlike rifles and shotguns, can’t be purchased out of state. So even if Parker wins, D.C. residents could not buy a handgun.

Congress should allow interstate handgun sales as long as they comply with the law in both states. And Congress should change how D.C. processes gun registrations. The city requires multiple pictures, fingerprints, and on and on. The process can take months. Congress can mandate that D.C. officials accept the National Instant Check System used everywhere else.

My colleagues and I have drafted alternative legislation â€" now in the hands of selected senators â€"that accomplishes those objectives and more, without extinguishing the Parker suit.

Finally, the NRA has suggested that the D.C. Personal Protection Act is “must†legislation. But the D.C. handgun ban was enacted 31 years ago. Why is it only now that legislation must be passed â€" especially when the effect of that legislation will be to kill the best chance ever for the Supreme Court to affirm that the Second Amendment means what it says?

Robert A. Levy is senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute and co-counsel to the plaintiffs in Parker v. District of Columbia.
 

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From the Liberty Papers, NRA v. Second Amendment.
In today’s Washington Examiner Robert Levy, one of the lead attorneys in the Parker v. District of Columbia case which recently resulted in a clear victory for an individual rights interpretation of the Second Amendment, wonders why the National Rifle Association is pursuing a strategy that would prevent the Supreme Court from ruling on the case.
 

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Am I missing something here or is this crazy?!
The group that is supposed to be supporting gun rights is potentially kicking us in the nuts.

USMCR (and MP becuase I think you have/had similar concerns) I've been considering joining the NRA what with the big push (USMCR is SUCH a pimp :wink: ) on these forums but this kind of thing along with the recent debacle surrounding HB43 really makes me lean towards not join. Yes I know the argument of "they ignore non-members complaints" but I can't really justify giving money to be used against my wishes & have my complaints ignored anyway.

Local, State & Fed politicians REALLY just make me want to move to some island and wall myself away from the rest of the world. All three groups have put me off so badly lately (the dems won't defund the war but they pass a BS piece of legislation they know will be vetoed so they can "send a message". The state guys ignore an important piece of legilature because they "don't like the way some of the lobbists acted". My local people are argueing like kindergardners about naming a building after someone when the local government is in the toliet & they are doing nothing to fix the situation. Can you tell my frustration level is at a peak. I thought our politicians were supposed to do what was good for the country & its people not themselves & their jobs.
*sigh*
I need to go find a dandelion patch to sit in for a while.... (5pts to anyone that gets that ref)
 

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Not a big fan of Bloom County myself but I'll apply the five points towards your NRA membership thus discounting it down to a mere $25.


Give the 800 Pound Gorrilla a chance. No other pro-gun group has the same impact at the national level.
 

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Foul said:
As an alternative...

http://www.gunowners.org/

No offense intended USMC, just my "drug of choice" in the 2nd amendment fight.

We're 2 different spears pointing at the same target. :p
No offense taken, I'm a GOA member as well. I figure there's more chance that I can have an impact by joining both. I have always tried to take every step I can and hope that whatever I do helps.
 

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:rotfl:

I do not yet have a membership number or anything, but once I do, these people at the NRA are going to be hearing from me about one particular state law issue and one particular federal law issue.

Change them from the inside, right?

I wonder whether any other NRA members are doing the same about the DC Personal Protection Act?
 

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Robert Levy said:
When asked to clarify the NRA’s position, CEO Wayne LaPierre told us in a private meeting, “You can take it to the bank. The NRA will not do anything to prevent the Supreme Court from reviewing Parker.â€
Will not do anything more, I guess he means, since attempting to forcibly consolidate Parker with Seegars and then introducing this same bill last session both failed to derail Parker.
 

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Malum Prohibitum said:
Mr. Gura,

Congratulations on the great result in the Parker case, which I hope will be taken up by the Supreme Court. I have a question about the current enforcement of the DC law, however. Was the Circuit Court's judgment reversing the District Court stayed for some reason? Has DC filed a brief requesintg an en banc re-hearing? What exactly is it that permits D.C. to publicly state they will continue to enforce a law that has been declared unconstitutional?

For what it is worth, I am an attorney in Atlanta, and I am also the President of GeorgiaCarry.Org (which you can find at the internet address that is the same as the name). GCO has several lawsuits going in both federal and state courts, mostly focused on Georgia specific issues respecting the right to keep and bear arms.

Thanks you for your time in considering my question, and thank you for the work you have performed on this case.
The response:
___________________________________________________________________________________
Ed,

Thanks for the encouragement on Parker. If you want to see the case go to the Supreme Court, where I believe we will succeed, please make sure to contact your congressional delegation and urge them to OPPOSE the so-called "DC Personal Protection Act." This legislative repeal of the laws we defeated in court would have the effect of mooting our case and vacating the D.C. Circuit's opinion. It would have been a great idea for Congress to repeal the D.C. gun ban in 1977. In 2007, it's a little late and very counterproductive. We hope to have someone introduce alternative legislation that helps implement the Parker decision rather than destroy it. As I'm sure you appreciate, if our case doesn't make it to the Supreme Court, some other case -- almost certainly a criminal case -- will.

D.C. can keep enforcing the law because per the circuit's rules, the issuance of the mandate is stayed until 7 days following denial of en banc review or the decision of the court en banc. D.C. has 30 days to file their petition for en banc review. I'm sure they'll do it, and then I am sure we will be ordered to respond to it (under the court's rules we are not allowed to respond but must if ordered by a judge, which appears highly likely).

Personally I do not believe D.C. can get a collective rights majority in this circuit. There may be enough votes for en banc review, because there are many judges on the circuit who have indicated a hostility to the circuit's decision in Navegar, and Parker is a great vehicle for undoing Navegar. Having said that, obviously we'd prefer just to get on with the case.

Good luck to you in Georgia and let me know if there is anything I can do to help you there.

Thanks,
Alan
 
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