Officials defend D.C. gun laws, seek tougher rules
City responds to ruling striking ‘good reason’
D.C. officials said Wednesday that they are looking at ways to expand the city’s strict gun laws, hoping to recapture some of the ground lost after a federal appeals court struck down the city’s restrictions on issuing concealed-carry permits.
The officials also defended the city’s gun-free zones, saying there are a number of areas where they don’t want anyone carrying a firearm, and in the nation’s capital, with so many high-profile government sites, there will be more zones than many other cities.
No timetable has been set for new restrictions, but City Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Public Safety Committee Chairman Charles Allen, Ward 6 Democrat, said in separate interviews that they are looking to stiffen the list of requirements for gun owners to be able to obtain permits in the city.
“We believe more guns on city streets makes us less safe,” Mr. Allen said.
The debate comes after the city decided last week not to appeal a federal circuit court ruling striking down the “good reason” requirement that severely limited who was able to obtain a
Now, as they expect an increase in the number of people seeking permits to carry, city officials are looking to tighten the screen.
“The court felt that our law with a ‘good reason’ provision was too limiting, which means that more people will get a license to carry, which means that we should take another look, after a couple years since we adopted the current law, to see if it covers all of the issues with regard to tendency toward violence, mental health issues and other clearly disqualifying factors,” Mr. Mendelson said.
The city has two sections of law that create gun-free zones. The more expansive section creates a 1,000-foot no-gun buffer around schools, day care centers, parks, swimming pools and other public gathering spaces. The law says those carrying weapons illegally in those zones can have their penalties doubled.
Second Amendment supporters and at least one legal analyst said the law is “bafflingly drafted” and they think permit holders could run afoul of it. John R. Lott Jr., president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, said he has never seen such an expansive law and that it could make it “impossible for somebody to legally carry a gun.”
But Mr. Mendelson said the law is clear and applies only to those carrying illegally in those buffer zones — not to lawfully permitted weapons owners.
“It’s a penalty section — that’s all it is. It’s just an enhanced penalty,” the chairman said.
The other section of law, which includes an absolute prohibition, is more narrowly drawn. It outlaws possession in buildings associated with city government, public and private schools and colleges, medical offices, public transportation, places where alcohol is served, sports arenas, the National Mall, areas around the White House and the Naval Observatory, and at public gatherings or anywhere else the police chief officially puts off limits.
That section doesn’t have a 1,000-foot buffer zone, cutting down on collateral restrictions.
Mr. Mendelson said the city struck a careful balance.
He said when the council was drafting gun legislation several years back, the federal government asked for expansive no-carry zones around major government sites. One of those would have prohibited weapons from 14th Street to 20th Street and from I or K Street down to the National Mall.
Instead, the city drew a smaller box from 15th to 17th streets and from Constitution Avenue to H Street, precisely because of worries about going too far.
Mr. Mendelson said he expects debate about expanding those no-gun zones but doesn’t think the council will take that step once folks realize how much the current law already covers.
Mr. Mendelson and Mr. Allen said city residents should know the limits of the court’s ruling, which, while it struck down the good-reason requirement, left the rest of the strict laws in place.
In the three years the good-cause rule was in effect, the city received 668 applications for concealed-carry permits and made decisions on 574 of them. Of those, 130 were approved and 123 were still active.
Another 444 applications were denied — 425 of them because of the good-reason clause.
They will be invited to apply again and will have to resubmit their paperwork but won’t be charged another fee.
Applications will still have to clear a number of hurdles. Those who have been convicted of a felony or a violent misdemeanor, those under indictment for a violent crime and those with at least two DUI violations are prohibited, as are the mentally unstable and the blind.
Police will still require a firearms safety course and range training, and applicants will still have to undergo in-person interviews with police.