Gura, who filed a certiorari petition with the Supreme Court after a unanimous three-judge Second Circuit panel affirmed the lower court's decision in November, took issue with that ruling during a Jan. 29 debate at Cornell Law School. "The court determined that the core purpose of the Second Amendment was not so much self-defense but rather self-defense in the home," he said. "There's no basis for that in Heller, but that's what the court held."
Gura also fell short in a challenge to a Yolo County, Calif., law forcing applicants wishing to carry concealed weapons in public to prove they had been victims of credible threats of violence. A federal district judge in a Sacramento hearing ruled in the county's favor on summary judgment in May 2011. (Gura has also appealed that decision.)
An effort to challenge a D.C. law banning violent criminals from owning firearms failed as well. The D.C. Circuit affirmed a lower court's ruling against Gura's client in that case, a Vietnam veteran convicted of a misdemeanor assault 44 years ago, on Jan. 15. Gura has told multiple media outlets that he will continue to press the case, either by appealing to the Supreme Court or applying for an en banc rehearing.
"It's silly to suggest that Congress intended to prohibit someone convicted of common-law misdemeanor from owning firearms," Gura told Bloomberg. "There's no way [my client] is in the same category as serious felons."
Path to gun-rights prominence
Gura has identified himself in multiple interviews as both a libertarian and a gun owner. He told Washington Jewish Week in 2008 that he was driven by a desire to protect his wife and infant son and purchased his first gun, in part, after watching the 1992 Los Angeles riots explode on television.
Born in Israel and raised in Los Angeles, he graduated from Cornell University in 1992 and Georgetown University Law Center in 1995, then clerked for U.S. district judge Terrence Boyle in North Carolina's eastern district before returning to California for a two-year stint as a deputy attorney general. From there, he returned to Washington, D.C., and joined Sidley from 1998 to 2000. He left private practice to serve as counsel to the U.S. Senate judiciary committee's subcommittee on criminal justice oversight from 2000 to 2001.
Gura's path to gun-rights prominence began more than a decade ago when the Fifth Circuit ruled in United States v. Emerson that the Second Amendment afforded individuals a right to bear arms. Clark Neily, a senior attorney for the Institute for Justice and Gura's co-counsel on Heller, recalls having drinks with a colleague shortly after that 2001 ruling, the first such appellate decision. "We knew the issue would go to the Supreme Court soon, either as a criminal case or a public interest case, and we obviously felt that the latter would be better," Neily says.
Neily and Cato's Levy began recruiting clients the following yearand looking for an attorney to serve as lead counsel. (Levy doesn't practice law and Neily had too many other cases.) Recalling Gura from his days as an Institute for Justice intern, Neily recommended him to Levy, who says he hired Gura because his rates were reasonable and he had true passion for the issue.
Gura quickly immersed himself in Second Amendment issues. Though he had never argued before the Supreme Court, Levy stuck with him as the Heller case proceeded. "Towards the end, when we got to the Supreme Court, there were all sorts of suggestions that we should switch to more experienced advocates like Ted Olson or Ken Starr," Levy says, referring to two former U.S. solicitors general. "Alan knew the subject matter inside-out. Plus, our arrangement was that if he'd work for sub-market wages, it would be his case no matter what. He did a superb job."
Neily concurs, saying Gura was ready for anything the justices might ask. "That's the hallmark of a capable litigator. We had done half a dozen moot courts in preparation for the oral argument, and I can't remember any setting where he got a question he wasn't prepared for."