Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Washington D.C. Agrees to $5.1 Million Settlement Following Court Ruling on Second Amendment Breaches


Gun owners who were prosecuted under D.C. laws that have since been struck down can receive money in a class-action settlement announced Monday. (Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

Washington D.C. has agreed to a $5.1 million class-action settlement concerning individuals who were apprehended under gun laws that have subsequently been declared unconstitutional in relation to the Second Amendment, as per the preliminary approval given by U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth. Previously, in September 2021, Judge Lamberth determined that D.C. had violated the Second Amendment rights of six people by arresting and prosecuting them based on laws that have since been ruled unconstitutional. 

The laws in question, which included a prohibition on carrying handguns outside one's home and essentially barring non-residents from carrying firearms in D.C., were struck down in federal court. Judge Lamberth had characterized these laws as part of a regulatory framework that entirely forbade the public carrying of handguns.

Under the settlement, $300,000 will be paid to the initial six plaintiffs and an additional $1.9 million will cover attorneys' fees. The remaining amount will be earmarked for an estimated 3,000 individuals who are expected to qualify for the class-action settlement. Neither the D.C. attorney general's office nor the lawyers representing the six initial plaintiffs provided immediate comments.

The resolution of this case adds to a series of federal court decisions over the past 15 years that have invalidated D.C.'s stringent gun laws, incrementally paving the way for increased lawful gun ownership in a city predominantly known for illegal weapons. 

The landmark Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008 had set the precedent by invalidating D.C.'s ban on handguns. Subsequent rulings, such as the one in Palmer v. District of Columbia in 2014, further eroded restrictive gun laws in the capital, including the requirement to show "good reason" for a concealed-carry permit, thus facilitating broader legal ownership of firearms.

The six original plaintiffs, four of whom were not D.C. residents, were arrested between 2012 and 2014 on firearm-related charges and initiated their lawsuit in 2015. Among them was Maggie Smith, a North Carolina nurse, who was arrested during a traffic stop in 2014 even though she possessed a firearm that was legally registered in her home state. Similarly, Gerard Cassagnol, another plaintiff, lost his job following his arrest.

Despite some of the charges being dropped, the consequences of these arrests had lasting impacts on the individuals involved, including job losses and security clearance reviews. Judge Lamberth noted in his 2021 decision that complying with D.C.'s gun laws during the period in question would have been impossible for the plaintiffs.

The settlement is pending a "fairness hearing" slated for December, and D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser has already endorsed the $5.1 million settlement sum. Meanwhile, according to recent data, the number of legal gun permits in D.C. has been on the rise, currently exceeding 15,000, a third of which belong to D.C. residents.

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