Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Portrait of Bob Levy

Here is an excellent piece from the Washington Post about Robert A. Levy, the lawyer who worked on the case until the D.C. Circuit Court declared Washington, D.C.'s virtually complete (except for retired policemen and a few others) on the possession of handguns -- except for those who had permits before 1976, when the law was passed.

I have known Bob Levy as a valuable source on legal issues for several years now. I also met him when he came to Southern California to give a talk a couple of years ago and had the opportunity to talk with him for several hours about this and that -- mostly the constitution and such, believe it or not. When he says, in this story, that it's not about the guns but the Constitution, I find that believable.

Bob is in a position to be sincere -- having sold a business some dozen years ago for a large amount of money and having not just no worries on that score but enough to finance this case entirely out of his own pocket. If it gets to the Supreme Court, which is possible, it could run into hundreds of thousands. He insisted on doing it himself, even though several gun organizations offered to help with the financing, because he wanted it to be clear that it was about the Constitution, not about the guns. As he notes, he doesn't own a gun -- he lives in a gated community in Florida and doesn't feel much need to have one for protection.

Bob has also been especially concerned about prisoners like Jose Padilla, the guy the feds captured as he got off a plane in Chicago, saying he was planning to let off a "dirty bomb" somewhere. The feds' story has changed several times since then, but the fact that they kept him incommunicado in a military brig for years before deciding -- just before the courts ordered it -- to try him in a civilian court, has not changed. Padilla is the most glaring example of the attitude in the Bush administration that they can just imprison anybody they please, without filing charges and without paying attention to ancient legal relics like habeas corpus. That offends Bob -- you can hear it in his voice when he discusses the case -- because it undermines one of the foundations of Western liberty and civilization.

This case is significant because Laurence Silberman of the D.C. Circuit explicitly acknowledged and defended the idea that the Second Amendment protects an individual right, not a collective right. The fact that the dependent clause on the amendment refers to militias has allowed would-be gun controllers to make the sadly intellectually disreputable case that thefounders only intended to protect the right to keep and bear arms as a collective right of militias and the states that sponsored them. As we noted in the Register's editorial on the ruling, the case that it's an individual right rather than a collective is supported by history, precedent and any non-tortured reading of the amendment.

This will probably get to the Supreme Court -- the D.C. government is likely to appeal for a hearing en banc (by the entire circuit court) as this was heard by a three-judge panel, the usual practice -- and the prospects for a favorable ruling are as good as they're likely to be in the near future. If it does and the right to keep and bear arms is affirmed as an individual right, Americans will have reason to be grateful to Bob Levy.

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