D.C. agrees to pay millions to gun owners for violating their Second Amendment rights

(AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

The District of Columbia has settled a class-action lawsuit filed by six gun owners who were arrested in our nation’s capitol for violating gun control laws that have since been struck down by the courts, agreeing to pay millions of dollars to the plaintiffs and their attorneys for infringing on their Second Amendment rights.

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The settlement received preliminary approval from a federal judge on Wednesday, with the District agreeing to fork over a total of $ 5.1 million. Each of the six named plaintiffs will receive $50,000 under the terms of the agreement, with a larger class of affected gun owners divvying up several million dollars between them.

U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth gave preliminary approval to the settlement agreement on Monday following years of litigation. Lamberth had previously ruled in September 2021 that D.C. arrested, jailed, prosecuted and seized guns from six people “based on an unconstitutional set of laws” and violated their Second Amendment rights.

The laws — a ban on carrying handguns outside the home and others that effectively banned nonresidents from carrying guns at all in D.C. — have since been struck down in federal court. They were part of a “gun control regime that completely banned carrying handguns in public,” Lamberth wrote in the 2021 ruling.

Those arrested include the lead plaintiff, Maggie Smith, a nurse from North Carolina who was pulled over by D.C. police for a routine traffic stop in June 2014, according to court documents. Smith, who had no criminal record, informed officers her car contained a pistol that was licensed in her home state — for which police promptly arrested her, seizing her gun and taking her to jail, where she stayed overnight.

In another case, Gerard Cassagnol, a Maryland resident, was driving home from his job in Northern Virginia when he got pulled over in the District. When police asked whether he had a gun in the vehicle, he said yes, giving police the combination to the locked safe where he kept it. He was ultimately jailed for two nights on the gun charges.

The charges were dropped in both those cases and others after the ruling in Palmer. But for some the damage was done: Cassagnol lost his job after his arrest. Another plaintiff had his Top Secret security clearance placed under review.

While D.C. argued at the time that the arrestees should have done their research about D.C. gun laws, or “attempt” to license them, before driving through the District with guns, Lamberth found that those actions would have been futile.

“There were no actions that the plaintiffs could have taken during the time period in question that would have allowed them to carry a gun for self-defense in the District of Columbia,” Lamberth wrote in the 2021 ruling.

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While Heller struck down D.C.’s ban on handguns, it was the Palmer case that opened the door for concealed carry in the District. The case never reached the Supreme Court because gun control activists convinced D.C. officials to take the loss after an appellate court ruled that D.C.’s prohibition on bearing arms in self-defense was a violation of their Second Amendment rights. The gun control lobby was playing keep-away from SCOTUS at the time, and decided it was better to adopt a restrictive carry regime rather than risk the Court delivering a nationwide precedent on the right to carry.

Of course, we got that anyway in Bruen, so resistance turned out to be futile for the prohibitionists.

I’d love to see this settlement come straight out of the bank accounts of the D.C. officials who approved these laws, but for better or worse that’s not the way the system works. Instead, it will be the taxpayers who are ultimately coughing up cash to settle the lawsuit.

Will this settlement make the D.C. City Council less inclined to violate our Second Amendment rights going forward? Don’t count on it, but at least they’ve been put on notice that future infringements could cost the city dearly going forward.

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