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Interview: The Way of the Gun

Meet Dr. Robert Levy, the lawyer whose Second Amendment challenge to D.C.?s strict gun laws could deal a death blow to gun control nationwide.

| Thu Apr. 19, 2007 3:00 AM EDT

A little more than a month before Cho Seung-Hui went on a murderous rampage at Virginia Tech, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued its ruling in a landmark gun rights case, Parker v. District of Columbia, repealing the District’s stringent gun laws. Leading the Second Amendment challenge was Cato Institute senior fellow and constitutional lawyer Dr. Robert Levy, who, despite offers of financial assistance from Cato, has bankrolled the three-year effort himself. Levy wielded a broad interpretation of the Second Amendment to dissolve the strictest gun regulations on the books in any state (or district), arguing that the Second Amendment protects the rights of individuals, not just militias, to bear arms. Parker marked the first time in history that the Second Amendment broad interpretation has been used to overturn a state gun law. It’s likely that the Supreme Court will eventually review the decision and if the Court upholds the D.C. Circuit court opinion, it will have far-reaching implications nationwide—making state gun laws ever more vulnerable to legal challenges. Interestingly, Levy’s case has not only been a subject of concern among gun control advocates, but to the National Rifle Association as well, which fears the impact of a negative Supreme Court ruling.

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From his home in Naples, Florida (where he claims he doesn’t need a gun), Levy talked to Mother Jones about his Second Amendment victory, his frustrations with the National Rifle Association, and the impact of the Virginia Tech shootings on the gun rights movement.

Mother Jones: For the past three years, this lawsuit has been your baby. What made you so passionate about challenging the gun laws in D.C.?

Robert Levy: I’m passionate about a lot of issues. I’ve done work on tort reform and tobacco litigation, post 9-11 civil liberties such as the Patriot act, detention of U.S. citizens, profiling, and NSA wire taps. So the Second Amendment is just one of the many issues that I feel passionate about.

MJ: Why D.C.?

RL: The reason deals with incorporation. When the Constitution was originally ratified for the Bill of Rights, it only applied to the federal government. All of that changed after the Civil War when the 14th amendment was ratified. And since that time, it’s been pretty well settled that most of the Bill of Rights can be applied to the states as well as the federal government, but it hasn’t been resolved whether the Second Amendment applies to the states. To avoid having to deal with that issue, we chose D.C., because it is not a state.

MJ: Are you a gun owner?

RL: No.

MJ: Are you a hunter, or a target shooter?

RL: Nope. I haven’t had a gun since I was in the Air Force in the 1960s.

MJ: From the beginning, were you considering that the Second Amendment challenge to this one law would have such far-reaching implications?

RL: Oh sure. We knew that it would have far-reaching implications because the Supreme Court had not dealt with a Second Amendment case since 1939. Meanwhile, 10 of the 12 judicial circuits, all except the 5th Circuit in Texas and the D.C. Circuit, had determined that Second Amendment did not secure individual right, instead that it applied only to members of the militia. And in some cases they determined that the Second Amendment didn’t apply to states. So we knew that if we were to win in D.C., it would be a major victory with profound implications across the country.

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