KELLY, Associate Judge:
On June 26, 1976, the District of Columbia Council (the Council) enacted the Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975 (the Act or the Firearms Act).
In an action for declaratory and injunctive relief filed in the Superior Court on November 18, 1976, appellants
Thereafter, cross-motions for summary judgment on the merits were filed in the trial court, which ultimately granted the motion of appellees and denied that of the appellants. In its written order disposing of the motions, the court held that the enactment of the Firearms Act was a valid exercise of the Council's congressionally delegated legislative power. It rejected all but one of appellants' constitutional attacks on the Act.
In Part I of this opinion we decide the threshold issue of the Superior Court's jurisdiction to entertain actions for declaratory judgment. In Part II, we consider whether the Firearms Act is an ultra vires measure which was enacted by the council beyond the scope of its delegated powers. We examine the constitutional challenge to the Act in Part III, and in Part IV we discuss briefly the procedural (DCAPA) claims that appellants have raised. Part V deals with specific claims of two appellants.
A declaratory judgment is one which determines and declares the rights of the parties without being immediately coupled with a coercive decree. Aetna Life Insurance Co. v. Haworth, 300 U.S. 227, 241, 57 S.Ct. 461, 81 L.Ed. 617 (1937). It is essentially an equitable action, Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. v. Huffman, 319 U.S. 293, 300, 63 S.Ct. 1070, 87 L.Ed. 1407 (1943), and differs from other equitable actions on the question of immediate relief sought rather than on jurisdictional concerns. Aetna Life Insurance Co. v. Haworth, supra.
The concept that a court possessing general equity jurisdiction
In Nashville, C. & St. L. Ry. v. Wallace, supra 288 U.S. at 263, 53 S.Ct. at 348, the Supreme Court stated:
State appellate courts have also recognized that quite apart from such statutory enactments as the Uniform Declaratory Judgment Act, (12 U.L.A.) § 1 et seq. (which has been adopted by numerous states), declaratory judgment procedures have existed and been used in many areas of the law, both in English and American practice. See, e. g., Petition of Kariher, supra; Lynn v. Kearney County, 121 Neb. 122, 236 N.W.2d 192 (1931).
In 1934, Congress passed the Federal Declaratory Judgment Act, which is now incorporated at 28 U.S.C. § 2201. In affirming the constitutionality of the statute in face of a challenge that it purported to extend the jurisdiction of the federal courts beyond the constitutional limit of "cases" and "controversies," the Supreme Court, in Aetna Life Insurance Co. v. Haworth, supra 300 U.S. at 241, 57 S.Ct. at 464, said:
By its reliance upon such cases as Nashville, C. & St. L. Ry. Co. v. Wallace, supra, and Fidelity National Bank & Trust Co. v. Swope, supra, the Supreme Court reflected its continued recognition of: (1) the existence of federal court jurisdiction to grant declaratory relief before the enactment of the Federal Declaratory Judgment Act, 300 U.S. at 241, 57 S.Ct. 461, and (2) the adoption of that Act as an exercise of the power of Congress to provide remedies and define procedures for cases already within the federal courts' constitutional jurisdiction, 300 U.S. at 240, 57 S.Ct. 461.
Thus, we now make explicit that which we implied in Spock v. District of Columbia, D.C.App., 283 A.2d 14, 20 n.16 (1971) — the Superior Court has authority to award declaratory judgments in cases within the jurisdiction of that court.
The central controversy presented on this appeal is whether the Firearms Act constitutes a legitimate exercise of the authority
Whether the Firearms Act is a valid measure under the Home Rule Act is a question of statutory construction requiring an analysis of the following provisions: (1) Section 1-227 (regulation relative to firearms, explosives, and weapons), which provides:
(2) Section 1-144, which states that
and (3) Section 1-147, which provided in pertinent part:
Appellants contend that the plain meaning of § 1-147(a)(9) prevents the Council's action. We think, however, that the validity of the Firearms Act can be sustained under the Council's newly conferred power set forth in § 1-144(a) of the Home Rule Act notwithstanding the limitation on such power contained in § 1-147(a)(9).
Appellants argue that the Firearms Act is an act "with respect to" a provision of law codified in Title 22 because it deals with many of the same subject matters covered in Chapter 32 of Title 22.
In considering also the power transferred to the present Council,
Before enactment of the present Firearms Act, weapons control statutes and regulations of the District of Columbia were codified in Chapter 32 of Title 22 of the D.C.Code
In 1968, police regulations covering the possession, registration and sale of firearms and destructive devices were adopted. D.C. Pol.Reg. Arts. 50-55. These regulations provide, inter alia, that all firearms either brought into the District, sold in the District, or otherwise possessed in the District must be registered with the Chief of Police. The validity of these regulations was confirmed by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in the pre-Home Rule decision of Maryland & D. C. Rifle & Pistol Ass'n, Inc. v. Washington, 142 U.S.App.D.C. 375, 442 F.2d 123 (1971) (Pistol Ass'n). In that case, the Association argued, as to appellants here, that in enacting D.C.Code 1973, §§ 22-3201 to -3217, an admittedly comprehensive legislative scheme, Congress had preempted the field and withdrawn from the Council (the predecessor to the present Council) legislative authority to enact gun control regulations under D.C.Code 1973, § 1-227. The court rejected this argument, stating:
Thereafter, in Firemen's Insurance Company of Washington, D. C. v. Washington, 157 U.S.App.D.C. 320, 483 F.2d 1323 (1973), in referring to its Pistol Ass'n decision, the court observed:
We concur in the rationale of those decisions.
Despite these decisions, which antedate the passage of the Home Rule Act, appellants nevertheless assert that the legislative history of § 1-147(a)(9) indicates a congressional intent to prohibit the Council from enacting a comprehensive criminal regulatory scheme such as the Firearms Act. The legislative history is devoid of any reference to firearms, however. Moreover, appellants' historical interpretation contradicts the core and primary purpose of the Home Rule Act, which was to relieve Congress of the burden of legislating upon essentially local matters "to the greatest extent possible, consistent with the constitutional mandate." D.C.Code 1978 Supp., § 1-121(a).
The legislative history does not suggest that in enacting § 1-147(a)(9), Congress intended to deter enactment of a gun control measure, or of other similar exercises of police power in accordance with past local legislative practices. In their attempt to show that antecedent congressional enactments have foreclosed enactment of a Firearms Act, appellants rely on certain provisions of Chapter 32 of Title 22 of D.C.Code 1973. In an analogous statute, however, the Gun Control Act of 1968, 82 Stat. 1213, 18 U.S.C. § 927, Congress provided:
No direct and positive conflict is apparent here. Appellants' contention that the Firearms Act is an impermissible exercise of local legislative power simply because it deals with matters not previously prohibited by Title 22 cannot be reconciled with the teachings of Pistol Ass'n, supra 142 U.S. App.D.C. at 382-83, 442 F.2d at 130-31, and recent Supreme Court decisions cited in Kargman v. Sullivan, 552 F.2d 2, 10-13 (1st Cir. 1977), including Goldstein v. California, 412 U.S. 546, 93 S.Ct. 2303, 37 L.Ed.2d 163 (1973) and New York State Department of Social Services v. Dublino, 413 U.S. 405, 93 S.Ct. 2507, 37 L.Ed.2d 688 (1973). These decisions explain that a parallel enactment in a given area cannot be stricken simply because it expands the scope of restrictions imposed by a parent legislative body.
Turning now to the gun control legislation here in controversy, we focus on § 708 of the Firearms Act, D.C.Code 1978 Supp., § 6-1801 note, which provides in pertinent part:
Thus, the language of the Act makes explicit the Council's intention to repeal those police regulations which have historically established the gun control framework for this jurisdiction, not Title 22 of the D.C. Code.
Enacted as a comprehensive regulatory scheme for control of the use and sale of firearms in the District of Columbia, the Firearms Act's purpose is to "freeze" the
In fact, § 1-128 of the Home Rule Act, D.C.Code 1978 Supp., specifically allows the Council to amend pre-Home Rule regulations by providing that
D.C.Code 1973, § 1-227 is not inconsistent with the Home Rule Act, and it is clear that legislative power transferred from the predecessor Council to the new Council necessarily included the function of enacting police regulations pursuant to D.C.Code 1973, § 1-226 and gun control measures pursuant to D.C.Code 1973, § 1-227.
It was the trial court's view, in which we concur, that the congressional intent behind § 1-147(a)(9) was to reserve to itself an interest in changing the criminal code for purposes of clarification and improvement.
The contention that the Firearms Act violates certain provisions of the Constitution is based on assertions that the Act (1) contains invalid, irrational, or illegitimate distinctions which offend equal protection (through the due process clause); (2) denies due process by imposing criminal penalties without requiring scienter or mens rea; (3) places an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce; and (4) is so vague as to be void. We find no merit in any of these constitutional challenges.
The initial challenge to the Firearms Act is to D.C.Code 1978 Supp., § 6-1872, which allegedly violates equal protection by allowing individuals to maintain an assembled firearm at their places of business but disallowing the maintenance of assembled weapons at home. Under the Act, firearms kept at home must be unloaded and disassembled or locked.
Judicial inquiry into equal protection claims necessarily requires a determination of whether the statutory classifications drawn are reasonable in light of the statute's purpose. McLaughlin v. Florida, 379 U.S. 184, 85 S.Ct. 283, 13 L.Ed.2d 222 (1964). Normally, wide discretion is allowed the legislative judgment, which is given the benefit of every circumstance which supports the classification as reasonable rather than arbitrary and invidious. See, e. g., McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S. 420, 425-26, 81 S.Ct. 1101, 6 L.Ed.2d 393 (1961); Railway Express Agency, Inc. v. New York, 336 U.S. 106, 69 S.Ct. 463, 93 L.Ed. 533 (1949). The rational basis standard is satisfied by the significant and substantial authoritative data which supports the legislative distinction challenged by appellants. See, e. g., Crimes of Violence, A Staff Report of the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, 22, 224 Vol. II (December 1969); To Establish Justice To Insure Domestic Tranquility, Final Report of the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, 197 (December 1969). The Council's Judiciary Committee found, inter alia, a need to improve the District's capacity to monitor the traffic of firearms in this city; that the availability of firearms was a major contributing factor to crime; that for each intruder stopped by a firearm there are four gun-related accidents within the home; that firearms more frequently are used in situations of violence among friends and relatives, and that most murders result from spontaneous violence by law-abiding citizens where the killer and victim are acquainted. There is, then, a clear rational basis, based on legislative findings, to distinguish between a home and a business establishment in the Act. We thus conclude that the classification in § 6-1872 relates to the purpose for which it is made and lacks the kind of discrimination from which the equal protection clause affords protection. See Railway Express Agency, Inc. v. New York, supra; contra McLaughlin v. Florida, supra 379 U.S. at 191, 85 S.Ct. 283 (racial classification); Carrington v. Rash, 380 U.S. 89, 85 S.Ct. 775, 13 L.Ed.2d 675 (1965) (voting classification); Massachusetts Board of Retirement v. Murgia,
The trial court found that § 6-1811(b)(3) of the Firearms Act unconstitutionally discriminates against local residents who wish to engage in lawful pistol target shooting activities by allowing only nonresidents to engage in such activities. Consequently, it severed § 6-1811(b)(3) from the Act, the result being that neither residents nor non-residents may possess a handgun while participating in or traveling to "any lawful recreational firearm-related activity" in the District. We conclude that the trial court's construction of § 6-1811(b)(3) was erroneous, for it was the Council's intent (which the government concedes) that both residents and nonresidents of the District be allowed to participate in such recreational activities so long as their firearms are validly registered in their respective jurisdictions and, also, meet local safety criteria. Accordingly, this ruling of the court cannot be sustained.
The contention that the Firearms Act offends constitutional due process requirements by imposing criminal penalties on those who fail to register firearms, regardless of their knowledge of the duty to register, is unpersuasive.
Appellant's reliance on Lambert v. California, 355 U.S. 225, 78 S.Ct. 240, 2 L.Ed.2d 228 (1957), and United States v. Mancuso, 420 F.2d 556 (2d Cir. 1970), is misplaced. These two cases carve out very narrow exceptions to the general rule that ignorance of the law is no defense. Except under the unique circumstances of Lambert and Mancuso, decisions in which persons were required to register because of their status, knowledge of the law is not a requirement of due process. The Supreme Court has indicated that dangerous or deleterious devices or products are the proper subject of regulatory measures adopted in the exercise of a state's "police power" — e. g., United States v. International Minerals & Chemicals Corp., 402 U.S. 558, 91 S.Ct. 1697, 29 L.Ed.2d 178 (1971) (corrosive liquids); United States v. Freed, 401 U.S. 601, 91 S.Ct. 1112, 28 L.Ed.2d 356 (1971) (grenades); United States v. Balint, supra (narcotics); and United States v. Dotterweich, 320 U.S. 277, 64 S.Ct. 134, 88 L.Ed. 48 (1943) (adulterated and misbranded drugs). These cases are premised on the theory that where dangerous or deleterious devices or products are involved, the probability of regulation is so great that anyone who is aware that he is either in possession of or dealing with them must be presumed to be aware of the regulation. Shevlin-Carpenter Co. v. Minnesota, 218 U.S. 57, 64-65, 30 S.Ct. 663, 54 L.Ed. 930 (1910). That is to say,
See United States v. Freed, supra; Shevlin-Carpenter Co. v. Minnesota, supra. Gun control is clearly such a field.
Appellants further claim that § 6-1816(a) of the Firearms Act, which provides that firearms brought into the District must be immediately registered, imposes an unconstitutional burden on interstate commerce.
We disagree also with the final premise advanced by appellant that the Firearms Act is unconstitutionally vague.
Appellants allege that the Firearms Act is antithetical to the District of Columbia Administrative Procedure Act (DCAPA), and argue that the court erred in refusing to rule on the merits of appellants' procedural argument under the DCAPA.
A threshold contention is that the Act contains no reference to the hearing
In D.C.Code 1978 Supp., § 6-1879, the Firearms Act, expressly provides:
Nowhere in the Firearms Act is it specifically provided that the DCAPA shall not apply. Moreover, both sections of the Firearms Act relied on by appellants refer to this court's direct review jurisdiction under the DCAPA (see §§ 6-1820(b) and -1846(b)), which jurisdiction can only be exercised at the conclusion of "contested case" procedures (D.C.Code 1973, § 1-1509). See also D.C.Pol.Reg. Arts. 50-55 (implementing regulations).
Appellant's final contention focuses on what they view as a misinterpretation of the effect of the Firearms Act on two corporate appellants — National Detective Agencies, Inc. (NDA)
As to appellant Philips, we reject the claim that under the Firearms Act, the company would be prohibited from selling handguns to qualified residents. Such sales would, however, be subject to the City Council's authority to regulate the conduct of dealers of any dangerous or deadly weapons, see D.C.Code 1973, § 47-2340, and the standards set forth in § 6-1852 of the Firearms Act.
For all above reasons, we conclude that the Firearms Act is a valid exercise of the City Council's legislative authority under the Home Rule Act, and that it offends no constitutional protection of appellees. Accordingly, the judgment on appeal is
Affirmed in part and reversed in part.
A request for declaratory relief, however, may be considered independent of whether other forms of relief are appropriate. See United Public Workers v. Mitchell, 330 U.S. 75, 93, 67 S.Ct. 556, 91 L.Ed. 754 (1947); 6A J. Moore's Federal Practice ¶ 57.08 (2d ed. 1974); cf. United States v. California, 332 U.S. 19, 25-26, 67 S.Ct. 1658, 91 L.Ed. 1889 (1947) (declaratory relief proper even though subject matter of decree, coastal line, is indefinite as to exact location). In Maryland Casualty Co. v. Pacific Coal & Oil Co., 312 U.S. 270, 61 S.Ct. 510, 85 L.Ed. 826 (1941), the Supreme Court stated that the difference between an abstract question and a "controversy" contemplated by the Federal Declaratory Judgment Act is necessarily one of degree, adding that "it would be difficult, if it would be possible, to fashion a precise test for determining in every case whether there is such a controversy." Id. at 273, 61 S.Ct. at 512. Basically, the question in each case is whether the facts alleged, under all the circumstances, show that there is a substantial controversy, between parties having adverse legal interest, of sufficient immediacy and reality to warrant the issuance of a declaratory judgment. See Aetna Life Ins. Co. v. Haworth, supra 300 U.S. at 239-42, 57 S.Ct. 461. Since there is a live dispute between the parties in the instant case, we conclude that appellants herein have standing to be before this court, see United States v. SCRAP, 412 U.S. 669, 688-89, 93 S.Ct. 2405, 37 L.Ed.2d 254 (1973), and that it is appropriate for us to consider the constitutional claims at the present time.