Living in a gated community, Asheville resident Robert Levy doesn’t own a gun because he doesn’t feel he needs one. Others are not so lucky, he says, especially those who live on the mean streets of places such as Washington, D.C., Levy’s hometown.
But thanks largely to Levy’s efforts, citizens of the nation’s capital will now be able to own a handgun, following a decades-long ban in the city (see “Arms and the Man,” May 28 Xpress).
Levy is a key player behind the 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision on June 26 in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller. The landmark ruling not only lifted the ban but also, for the first time, stated unequivocally that the Second Amendment confers an individual right to bear arms. The ruling also stated that such individual rights are not absolute: “It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority.
Levy was the lawyer who brought and tried the case nearly five years ago, and personally funded it as it wended its way to the Supreme Court. Though he thinks the ruling is not perfect, Levy tells Xpress, he and his co-counsels are pleased.
“The court certainly found we were correct in suggesting that the Second Amendment secured an individual right, and that D.C.‘s gun ban could not be considered constitutional in light of that individual right,” he says. “The court didn’t go quite as far as we would have liked in elaborating on the standard of review, the level of scrutiny, that would apply when examining other gun regulations. It left that issue pretty much unresolved, and it’s going to take a good deal more litigation to flesh that out. We would have preferred if the court had stated it would ‘strictly scrutinize’ all gun regulations.”
Levy, who was present when the ruling was read from the bench, described the day as one full of drama. “It was gut-wrenching,” he says. “There was mayhem outside the court with various demonstrators and press conferences; and, for the next two days I had nonstop, wall-to-wall media commitments. So it was an exciting time.”
In response to the resulting outcry from gun-control proponents, Levy says, “This was all about self-defense. It was about letting law-abiding citizens have ordinary, garden-variety handguns in their home, to be able to defend themselves in a city where violence is not unknown. We’re not talking about carrying assault weapons on city streets. We’re talking about the very basic elements of self-defense. Washington, D.C., is a terrifically violent community, as are many cities across the nation that have very restrictive gun laws. That denies to citizens a very fundamental right, and at least in Washington, D.C., that’s been rectified.”