In a landmark ruling, the District of Columbia has agreed to a multi-million-dollar settlement with six gun owners who had been arrested and charged with violating now-invalid gun control laws. The $5.1 million settlement, which has been given preliminary approval by Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the U.S. District Court, would allow each of the six named plaintiffs to receive $50,000 in addition to the larger class of affected gun owners receiving a split of several million dollars.
The class-action lawsuit was filed by the six-gun owners after they were unjustly arrested and charged with violating laws that have since been determined to be unconstitutional. In September 2020, Judge Lamberth ruled that D.C. had violated the Second Amendment rights of the six plaintiffs by arresting, jailing, prosecuting, and seizing their guns based on the now-invalid laws. The laws, which banned carrying handguns outside the home and effectively barred nonresidents from carrying guns in the District, were struck down in federal court.
One of the plaintiffs, Maggie Smith, a nurse from North Carolina, was pulled over and arrested during a routine traffic stop in June 2014 after informing officers that her car contained a pistol licensed in her home state. Another plaintiff, Gerard Cassagnol, a Maryland resident, was arrested while driving home from his job in Northern Virginia and jailed when he provided the combination to the locked safe containing his gun. The charges were later dropped in both cases, though Cassagnol lost his job as a result of his arrest.
The District argued that the arrestees should have done their research about local gun laws or attempted to license their guns before driving through the city, but Judge Lamberth determined that doing so would have been a futile effort due to the complete ban on carrying handguns in public at the time. The case never reached the Supreme Court as gun control activists convinced D.C. officials to take the loss rather than risk a nationwide precedent on the right to carry.
The recent settlement should serve as a reminder to D.C. officials that further violations of Second Amendment rights could be costly. While this class-action lawsuit has been resolved, justice for the arrested gun owners and others who have faced similar situations illuminates the importance and necessity of laws protecting citizens’ constitutional right to bear arms.