DC Guns: Smile When you Say That

DC Guns — Smile When you Say That

The distinguished gentleman above is behind the legal challenge to the District of Columbia firearms control laws (D.C. Code §§ 7-2502.02(a)(4), 22-4504(a), and 7-2507.02). His name is Robert A. Levy, and he is much more than co-counsel for Mr. Dick Heller in Supreme Court Case No. 07-290, District of Columbia vs. Anthony Dick Heller. He invented this case and, it might be said, he invented the Respondent, Dick Heller.

Mr. Levy is Senior Fellow in Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute. A wealthy businessman, he sits on the board of Cato, the Institute for Justice, the Federalist Society, and the George Mason University School of Law. He clerked for Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, was an Adjunct Professor of Law at Georgetown University, and has written extensively. Mr. Levy has a Ph.D. in Business from American University and a J.D. from the George Mason University School of Law.

Liberals and moderates beyond the Beltway may be surprised that there are Libertarian intellectuals who think and publish about principles they support. If the only Libertarian they have heard of is Ron Paul, they may assume that all Libertarians are just against things. 

From comments of firearms enthusiasts submitting amicus curiae briefs, I know that members of the gun culture have no idea that Mr. Levy organized this case, arranged the considerable funding it required, and found Mr. Heller, the 65-year-old security guard whose participation gives this case legal standing. Mr. Levy didn’t have to look far: Mr. Heller works at the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building, a few blocks from the Supreme Court, near Union Station. The Thurgood Marshall Building houses the administrative arm of the Federal Court system, on U.S. Capitol land, but thanks to the magic of “Public-Private Partnership” belongs to a private developer, so Mr. Heller is not a sworn officer but works for a private contractor (U.S. Facilities Inc., if I am not mistaken).

Thanks to Mr. Levy’s astute handling of publicity and current media laziness (seen any Heller profiles in the paper?) the case looks like a battle between the “little guy,” Mr. Heller, and big bad District Government, not a weathy intellectual using Mr. Heller’s situation to make a point. Certainly that is how these things are done, but back when we had “the Press” and not “the Media,” we read about it. That’s when the First Amendment was taken seriously by its proponents.

DC Guns — Smile When you Say That


Top image: Cato Imstitute, boston Globe; bottom image, Mike Licht.


15 Responses to “DC Guns: Smile When you Say That”

  1. Matt Boyd Says:

    It struck me as a battle of “We, The People” versus the District of Columbia – not Heller.

    If the DNC was providing resources to get Eleanor Holmes Norton a voting voice to represent her constituency, would you decry representation as a prerequisite to taxation? The source of the advocacy is not my concern when we’re talking about rights.

    The Supreme Court will, in the coming months, clarify exactly what it means to say that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

  2. Mike Licht Says:

    Matt: Eleanor Holmes Norton was elected by We The People of the District of Columbia. The DNC didn’t go shopping and pick her out for us. Mr. Levy picked out Mr. Heller to represent us; we didn’t elect him.

    My main concern here is that the media have not done their First Amdendment responsibility; they have left the public with the idea that DC citizen Dick Heller originated the actions resulting in the suit, when that is not true.

  3. Seb Says:

    Does it matter who brought the suit? I think the public is more interested in the confirmation of the right to keep and bear arms and the significance of such a judgment than who exactly brought the suit. The involvement of Heller and Robert Levy is incidental.

  4. Mike Licht Says:

    Seb: It is not “the public’s” law that is under review but the law of the District of Columbia, enacted by DC’s duly elected legislative body. “The public” in other jurisdictions is free to do as it will about our country’s plague of firearms deaths (about 40,000 annually).

    It is not so much Mr. Levy’s skillful manipulation of the legal system and public opinion that troubles me as much as the media’s unwillingness to cover it.

  5. Matt Boyd Says:

    The distinction you draw is valid, but if the examples were switched with anything else, say, Brown vs the Board of Education, at the end of the day it isn’t about Brown at all. The Holmes Norton example is just that however the injustice is brought before a court, the parties involved in rectifying the injustice are merely avatars.

    I don’t care if the avatar is a security guard, a stripper, or a family man trying to protect his.

    Now, that said, I have been very focused on the issue itself, and have skimmed through any sort of journalist’s desire to spin a compassionate yarn to get to the status of the case.

  6. Seb Says:


    I realise it is DC law that is being amended, I was replying to:

    “they have left the public with the idea that DC citizen Dick Heller originated the actions resulting in the suit”

    I think Matt Boyd’s reference to Brown Vs Board of Education is important. You cannot pick and choose which rights are to be defended.

    To argue about the role of Mr. Levy is to argue ad hominem, it is completely irrelevant.

  7. Mike Licht Says:


    The case seeks to overturn — negate — DC Law, not amend it. The respondents may be speaking on the courthouse steps about “reasonable regulations;” that is what the District believes it has (thousands of DC citizens have firearms permits).

    Brown vs. Bd. of Ed. was about how people live; given that the purpose of handguns is destruction of human life, the comparison is rather far-fetched. BTW, Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP were in plain view during Brown; the same cannot be said for Mr. Levy and the Cato Institute here.

    I am certainly capable of ad hominem attacks; I don’t see where I have shown anything but my respect for Mr. Levy’s accomplishments and his skillful handling of this issue. I do wish to draw attention to “the man behind the curtain” in this Wizard of Oz lawsuit.

  8. Seb Says:

    I could argue protecting the right to keep handguns defends life as opposed to destroying it. It is all a matter of perspective. I have listened to oral arguments made in the case and it is clear to me the US Supreme Court is highly skeptical of suggestions a complete ban on handguns could be seen as reasonable. The suggestion seems to be the handgun ban, and incidentally the requirement to keep guns locked up or inoperable was also mentioned, is a clear violation of a persons implied right to defend themselves (referred to Blackstone’s commentaries). Could this be seen as impeding a DC residents ability to “live” freely? Again, a matter of perspective.

    I think you are letting your perspective on the case, which although valid, cloud your judgment of the players involved. It is simply not relevant who is funding Heller.

  9. Mike Licht Says:

    My post on Mr. Levy is about transparency, and about gaps in public knowledge regarding this case.

    Seb said:

    I could argue protecting the right to keep handguns defends life as opposed to destroying it. It is all a matter of perspective.

    No, it is a matter of fact — in households with handguns, chances are much greater (20 to 1) that someone in that family will be killed or injured with that weapon than that it used to protect residents from outsiders. There are nearly 40,000 U.S. handguns deaths a year and you wish to increase them?

    Handguns are sold with quick-release childproof trigger locks; why can’t the locks be used in DC? For some reason, gun proponents favor gun vaults but not trigger locks. What’s that all about?

    BTW, you cite Blackstone. When Blackstone lived, opium was freely sold in remedies for children, but only the rich were permitted to have firearms.

  10. Seb Says:

    1. No, it is not a matter of fact. The “20 to 1” statistic has long been refuted. It is well established that the majority of defensive uses of handguns are not reported and do not result in injury.

    2. There are not 40,000 handgun deaths a year. That is simply made up, kind of nice when you do not have to cite data.

    3. Trigger locks reduce the effectiveness of a weapon for use for self defense, whether you believe they are useful for that purpose or not. The beauty of freedom is one can make their own decisions as to what s suitable for their defense within reason.

    4. I didn’t refer to Blackstone, the Supreme Court Chief Justice did, numerous times. His commentaries are the foundation of your political system, it is as a a result of his formulations that you and I are free.

    I do not wish to argue the pros and cons of gun control with you on your blog, I simply think your obvious bias is why you find great interest in who is funding Heller. The fact you have this information suggests it is freely available, the public simply do not care.

  11. Mike Licht Says:

    1. This figure was cited yesterday by the D.C. Police Commissioner; it is true that I don’t know where she got it, but she is well-educated (2 MAs), well informed, and not yet proven a liar. Her bio is here. As for the rest, the undocumented instances of shootin’ iron safety, there is a name for things with no proof: imaginary.

    2, This figure of 39,000 gunshot deaths is from the CDC — the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. They got it by compiling death certificates for the entire nation — although it does not include dead children under 15 or deaths in South Dakota. If you have information about forged death certificates, call the authorities immediately.

    3. This is an aside; I just find it curious that handgun enthusiasts are against trigger locks but for gun vaults. What’s that all about?

    4. Doesn’t the Blackstone quote on arms say something like “appropriate as to their station?” That means only the rich had firearms; everybody else got halberds.

    5. If I have a bias here it is against the lazy press, and their failure to cover this story. That’s what the post was about.

    As for my biases, I believe the facts show privately-owned handguns are a public health menace and, as the son of a police officer, I admit to a strong bias against vigilantes. I’ve posted about that before. This post is about the people and forces hidden behind Mr. Heller and the media failure to make that clear.

  12. Matt Boyd Says:

    I got a good strong chuckle out of “if you have information about forged death certificates” 🙂

  13. Supreme Showdown. Get the Kids Inside. « NotionsCapital Says:

    […] Court is expected to issue a ruling on District of Columbia v. Heller  tomorrow or Thursday, a case appealing the overturn of the firearms control laws of Washington, DC. The justices are probably […]

  14. The Spin on DC Gun Laws « NotionsCapital Says:

    […] carry a revolver at his assigned job site but denied permission to keep handguns at home, was selected by Robert A. Levy of the Cato Institute to challenge the D.C. gun law in the […]

  15. DC Tourism Campaign Begins with a Bang « NotionsCapital Says:

    […] Heller, whose Supreme Court case was successfully backed by the Cato Institute, is suing the District of Columbia again, this time for the right to keep a […]

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