WASHINGTON — Gay gun owners who call themselves Pink Pistols say they'll be safer if the Supreme Court strikes down Washington's strict handgun ban.
They aren't alone. Jewish gun owners, women and disabled veterans, among others, also contend that they're vulnerable and need the protection that only firearms can provide.
More than 65 groups have filed friend of the court briefs in the gun case, surpassing the attention paid even to such hot-button issues as affirmative action and abortion.
The case, scheduled for oral arguments on March 18, challenges a District of Columbia handgun ban that was imposed in 1976. Only retired district police officers can legally possess handguns. District residents must keep rifles unloaded and either disassembled or secured with trigger locks.
"Even in their homes, (gay) individuals are at risk of murder, aggravated assault and other forms of hate violence because of their sexual orientation," Pink Pistols declared in its amicus brief. "Thus, for certain (gay) individuals, the possession of firearms in the home is essential for a sense of personal security."
Some of the groups have been assembled to crank up the volume for this case. Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, for instance, has rallied Vice President Dick Cheney and 304 other members of Congress in opposition to Washington's gun law.
University of North Carolina at Pembroke sociologist Fran Fuller has joined Idaho state legislator Maxine Bell, California Assemblywoman Jean Fuller and 123 other women to stress the necessity of gun ownership.
"The district's current prohibition against handguns . . . effectively eliminates a woman's ability to defend her very life and those of her children against violent attack," the female legislators and professors said in their brief.
Some long-standing groups also have weighed in, including the Wisconsin-based Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership and, supporting the national capital's strict handgun ban, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Bar Association.
The blizzard of briefs that met a Monday night filing deadline underscored the high stakes in District of Columbia v. Heller and illustrates how amicus briefs sometimes influence the court.
"If an amicus brief adds something new, certainly it's useful," Alan Gura, one of the attorneys who are challenging the gun ban, said Tuesday. "And sometimes an amicus brief is important for who's speaking."
In the case, the first of its kind to reach the Supreme Court since 1939, a handful of Washington residents claim that the district's gun law violates the Second Amendment, which says:
"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."
Gun rights advocates argue that the Constitution guarantees an individual's right to own firearms. If the Supreme Court agrees, some but not all gun-control laws could be struck down.
Supporters of gun control say the Second Amendment's language protects only a collective right to own firearms, as with a state militia.
"Until (recently) prosecutors have been able to enforce criminal firearms laws with a settled understanding, reinforced by a long line of cases, of their constitutionality," Jeffrey Tuttle, the district attorney for California's rural Calaveras County, wrote in a legal brief signed by 18 prosecutors.
Some briefs make a bigger splash than others do. The Bush administration, in particular, raised hackles on the right with a split-the-difference brief that supports an individual right to own firearms but also a government's authority to regulate them.
Other briefs promote more esoteric analyses, as with three linguistics professors who've grammatically parsed the Second Amendment for its real meaning.
"The amendment's first and third commas signal a pause for breath and can be omitted without affecting the meaning," they say.