Sunday, July 20, 2008

Having Toppled D.C. Ban, Man Registers Revolver

Relishing a moment of triumph after a successful, long-running legal battle to end the District's handgun ban, Dick A. Heller strode into D.C. police headquarters yesterday with an unloaded revolver and began registering the weapon so he can keep it in his Capitol Hill home for self-defense. "It's a great day," declared Heller, 66, a hero to gun rights advocates nationwide for his role in District of Columbia v. Heller, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case decided in his favor last month. Wearing a dark blue necktie adorned with the scales of justice, Heller, a security guard, climbed the steps of the police building on Indiana Avenue NW about 9:15 a.m. with his .22-caliber revolver in a bright red satchel. "Only in America," he said, smiling.

Moments later, at a reception desk set up in the lobby for gun-registration applicants, Heller unzipped the bag for four police officers at the counter and gingerly handed one of them the weapon: a nine-shot Harrington & Richardson "Longhorn" model with a six-inch barrel, designed in the style of an Old West sidearm. Heller said he owned the revolver "way before the ban was implemented" 32 years ago. Although the 1976 law barred new handgun registrations, residents who owned revolvers before the ban were allowed to keep them in their homes, unloaded and either disassembled or fitted with trigger locks. They could not be used legally even for self-defense. Back then, rather than participate in what he considered an unconstitutional process, Heller said, he gave the pistol to a friend in Maryland for safekeeping. So yesterday was a homecoming for the old firearm after more than three decades in storage. "It's one of my favorites," he said of the blue-steel revolver. "It's like the kind Matt Dillon used to use on 'Gunsmoke.' "

Heller was one of six plaintiffs who sued the District in 2006, saying the city's gun control laws violated the Second Amendment. In a 5 to 4 ruling June 26, the Supreme Court held that the Constitution grants individuals the right to own guns for self-defense. Although the majority opinion said that officials may impose reasonable restrictions, it meant the end of the District's handgun ban.

Five of the plaintiffs were dropped from the case for lack of legal standing, leaving Heller as the only named litigant championing gun rights. To libertarians and firearms enthusiasts, he has become an icon, his victory celebrated on T-shirts and bumper stickers.

"My first reaction is we shouldn't have had to be here in the first place," he said when he had finished the registration-application process and the revolver was back in the satchel by his side. But "it's a great feeling to be returning to a state of normalcy when it comes to being able to defend your life in your household."

Yet even as the court ruling forces a shift in policy regarding firearms ownership in the nation's capital, several legal and regulatory obstacles remain for D.C. residents hoping to purchase handguns and keep them loaded.

With few exceptions, it is not yet possible for a Washingtonian to legally obtain a handgun because there are no licensed dealers in the city (although officials expect there will be eventually). Federal law bars a dealer in one state from selling a pistol to a resident of another state unless the gun is shipped to a dealer in the buyer's home jurisdiction, where the purchaser can take delivery.

As a result, although dozens of people have picked up registration-application packets, police said, only five residents, including Heller, have begun the registration process since the city began accepting applications Thursday. The process is open to gun owners who stored their firearms outside the city while the ban was in effect and to residents who illegally kept revolvers in their homes during the ban and want to register them under an amnesty program. Of the five applicants so far, police said, only Heller brought in a legal gun from outside the District. The others sought to register revolvers under the amnesty program. Three of those applications are pending. The other was rejected and the gun was confiscated because the applicant had a criminal record, police said.

"It's going to take a while" before the city has a legally well-armed populace, said Dane von Breichenruchardt, president of the Bill of Rights Foundation, a public policy group, as he stood with Heller at police headquarters.

In a statement yesterday, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) urged city residents not to follow Heller's lead. "Don't buy into the gun culture in our streets by bringing it into our homes with the gun you buy," she said.

Those who eventually opt to arm themselves in the District will face tough restrictions. For example, the city continues to ban most magazine-loaded semiautomatic pistols, the most popular kind of handgun on the market and commonly carried by police officers. Registrations are limited almost entirely to revolvers, which must be kept unloaded and disabled unless the owner is in reasonable fear of being imminently harmed at home by an attacker.

Arguing that the restrictions violate the court ruling, Heller and others predict more litigation if the city does not ease the regulations. In the meantime, another of Heller's handguns -- a Colt M1911 .45-caliber semiautomatic, the U.S. military's standard-issue sidearm for most of the 20th century -- remains in Maryland. For now, he is happy that his .22-caliber Longhorn is back home, although he is barred from using it, even in self-defense, while his registration application is pending.

"We've begun the process of helping the District recognize our constitutional rights," he said outside the police building, after he had been fingerprinted, filled out paperwork and passed a firearms-proficiency test. After a background check, police will notify him whether his registration has been approved. He grinned. "It's been a long battle."



Stephanie Morosi kept a .380-caliber pistol in a pillow on her bed because she was so scared of Jason Truitt. Morosi had been sprucing up her childhood house, sanding and painting the shutters and cleaning the mess left after new tile was put down in the kitchen on the evening of Sept. 14, 2006. Suddenly, Truitt suddenly came through the unlocked front door of 122 Hartford Drive. He wore a gut hook skinning knife on his leather belt. He asked for money - and to move back in with her.

'I can't live with you, you're scaring me,' she told him. The argument escalated and Morosi went to the bathroom to calm herself. Truitt was standing there when she opened the door. 'I just kept screaming for him to leave. That's when he grabbed a knife,' she told The Post and Courier on Friday, nearly a month after prosecutors dismissed a murder charge against her. The steak knife came from her kitchen counter. When she told Truitt she'd call the police if he didn't leave, he called her a 'bitch' and said she wasn't calling anyone.

'I ran for my dear life and I ran as hard as I could,' she said. Morosi ran to the bedroom and around to the far side of the bed. 'He pounced up on that bed,' she said. She remembers thinking, 'This guy's gonna kill me. This guy could kill me with his own hands, as big as he is and as tiny as I am.' 'I've got to get to that gun,' she thought. Morosi grabbed the gun and fired, killing Truitt.

'I don't remember hearing anything. I just remember I had to get him to stop running towards me because he was coming too close. My heart just felt like it was in my throat.' An autopsy showed Morosi shot Truitt three times, in his abdomen, neck and head. She dropped the gun and ran to a neighbor's house to call 911. All I remember is when I called, I got kind of dizzy. I got kind of like a red haze over my eyes,' she said. The neighbor covered her with a blanket. 'The shock, the blood just drains from your body,' she said.

Morosi, 32 and a wispy 105 pounds, admitted shooting Truitt, a 33-year-old she met at Citadel Mall, but told Berkeley County sheriff's detectives that night that she was afraid of the 6-foot-tall, 270-pound man she dated for a brief time and once allowed to live in her house. She never thought she would spend the next 20 months with a murder charge hanging over her head.

Prosecutors announced June 24 that they were dropping the murder charge. Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said in a statement that the facts indicated that Morosi was in fear for her life when she shot Truitt.

Morosi had purchased a Bersa Thunder .380-caliber pistol in July for protection against Truitt, whose behavior she said had become increasingly erratic and threatening. A Berkeley County Sheriff's office report documents that Morosi admitted in August 2006 that she removed two of Truitt's handguns from the house because she was scared. Her attorney, Paul Thurmond, said Morosi started going to courses for victims of criminal domestic violence and started developing safety plans. She kicked Truitt out days before the shooting, Thurmond said.

Morosi expected to go home after she recounted the timeline for detectives the night of the killing, but she was arrested on a charge of murder and spent the next three months in the Hill-Finklea Detention Center in Moncks Corner.

Morosi had been living in her childhood home. Though it belonged to her father, he was in the process of giving it to her. Morosi's sister came from Virginia and sold the house so Morosi could make her $75,000 bail; she was released in December 2006.

She looked for jobs, but found it difficult to find work because of the notoriety of the murder charge pending against her. At the time Morosi was arrested, her main source of income as an escort became public. She required a 'donation' of $250 an hour to be collected at the beginning of the 'date,' according to her Web posting.

Morosi said Friday that she was looking for a male version of herself on her dates. In a time when people don't get married to have sex or even have children, she sees what she did for a living as no worse or different.

Thurmond said he doubts detectives would have been so quick to arrest Morosi had she been in a different line of work, say, a kindergarten teacher. 'I don't think a reasonable person would say she would receive less scrutiny than the teacher,' Thurmond said of the length of time that passed between Morosi's arrest and the dismissal of the charge.

After her release from jail, Morosi worked for a brief time at the IHOP on Ashley Phosphate Road, but grew nervous when it was twice robbed. She's using what's left from the sale of the house in Ladson to attend Trident Technical College, and hopes to become a nurse. She's living on a friend's sofa and said she's discovered that Goodwill is a great place to shop for bargains.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

He beat up several women before me but that part got left out of the article. I would be 6ft under had it not been for the 2nd amendment