Court calls D.C. gun law un­con­sti­tu­tional

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY AN­DREA NOBLE

A strict D.C. gun law that pre­vents most firearms own­ers from car­ry­ing con­cealed hand­guns in pub­lic in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal is un­con­sti­tu­tional, a fed­eral ap­peals court panel ruled, say­ing the city gov­ern­ment can­not de­mand cit­i­zens prove a “good rea­son” be­fore be­ing is­sued per­mits.

In a 2-1 de­ci­sion, the U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the D.C. Cir­cuit or­dered lower courts to is­sue per­ma­nent in­junc­tions block­ing en­force­ment of the law.

City of­fi­cials said they are con­sid­er­ing an ap­peal, but gun rights sup­port­ers said the rul­ing is a ma­jor step and could set up an even big­ger vic­tory should the U.S. Supreme Court adopt the cir­cuit judges’ de­ci­sion.

“At the Se­cond Amend­ment’s core lies the right of re­spon­si­ble cit­i­zens to carry firearms for per­sonal self-de­fense be­yond the home, sub­ject to long­stand­ing re­stric­tions,” Judge Thomas B. Grif­fith wrote in the ma­jor­ity opin­ion. “These tra­di­tional lim­its in­clude, for in­stance, li­cens­ing re­quire­ments, but not bans on car­ry­ing in ur­ban ar­eas like D.C. or bans on car­ry­ing ab­sent a spe­cial need for self-de­fense.”

The rul­ing is the lat­est blow to the Dis­trict’s ef­forts to cur­tail gun pos­ses­sion and use. The Supreme Court struck down the city’s near to­tal ban on firearms pos­ses­sion in 2008, and a fed­eral court blocked an ef­fort to ban the car­ry­ing of firearms in pub­lic in 2014.

The D.C. Coun­cil re­sponded to that rul­ing with its “good rea­son” reg­u­la­tions, which re­quire res­i­dents to prove they have a “good rea­son to fear in­jury” or an­other “proper rea­son,” such as a job that re­quires car­ry­ing large amounts of cash or valu­ables, in or­der to get a con­cealed carry per­mit.

Un­der the city’s law, liv­ing in a high­crime neigh­bor­hood was not rea­son enough to jus­tify ap­proval of a con­cealed carry per­mit.

Gun own­ers said the ban was so re­stric­tive that most law-abid­ing cit­i­zens would be un­able to ob­tain per­mits.

The reg­u­la­tions also have come un­der at­tack by fed­eral law­mak­ers con­cerned that they couldn’t carry firearms in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal af­ter a gun­man in June opened fire on mem­bers of Congress dur­ing base­ball prac­tice in Vir­ginia.

As of June 3, the Metropoli­tan Po­lice De­part­ment re­ported re­ceiv­ing 606 con­cealed carry ap­pli­ca­tions, grant­ing 125 per­mits and deny­ing 403.

“To be sure, the good-rea­son law leaves each D.C. res­i­dent some re­mote chance of one day car­ry­ing in self-de­fense, but that isn’t the ques­tion,” Judge Grif­fith wrote. “The Se­cond Amend­ment doesn’t se­cure a right to have some chance at self-de­fense. Again, at a min­i­mum the Amend­ment’s core must pro­tect car­ry­ing given the risks and needs typ­i­cal of law-abid­ing cit­i­zens. That is a right that most D.C. res­i­dents can never ex­er­cise, by the law’s very de­sign.”

Cir­cuit Court Judge Karen LeCraft Hen­der­son dis­sented, writ­ing that her fel­low judges were stretch­ing gun rights well be­yond home pro­tec­tion, which she said was the real core of the Se­cond Amend­ment.

She said city law­mak­ers had im­por­tant gov­ern­ment goals that were sup­ported by the law — “the preven­tion of crime and the pro­mo­tion of pub­lic safety” — that jus­tify its strict li­cens­ing scheme.

D.C. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Karl Racine called the city’s law “a com­mon-sense gun reg­u­la­tion.” He said four other fed­eral ap­peals courts have ruled in fa­vor of sim­i­lar re­stric­tions else­where.

D.C. Coun­cil Chair­man Phil Mendelson, who helped craft the orig­i­nal reg­u­la­tions, urged city at­tor­neys to seek a re­view of the rul­ing by the full D.C. Cir­cuit — where Demo­crat-ap­pointed judges hold a 7-4 ma­jor­ity. All three judges who heard the con­cealed carry cases were ap­pointed by Repub­li­can pres­i­dents.

“Ac­cept­ing this with­out ap­peal would make the Dis­trict an out­lier among the states, and not in a good way, on this im­por­tant is­sue of pub­lic safety,” said Mr. Mendelson, at-large Demo­crat. “I know Se­cond Amend­ment ad­vo­cates claim that al­low­ing the pos­ses­sion and car­ry­ing of firearms pro­motes pub­lic safety. But all of the gun vi­o­lence in our city is by peo­ple car­ry­ing firearms. This is why some reg­u­la­tion — like re­quir­ing a good rea­son to have a li­cense to carry — is nec­es­sary.”

Of­fi­cials from Every­town for Gun Safety, which filed briefs sup­port­ing the city’s gun laws, said the rul­ing leaves D.C. res­i­dents and vis­i­tors less safe.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives for the Metropoli­tan Po­lice De­part­ment and the of­fice of the D.C. at­tor­ney gen­eral said the rul­ing would not take ef­fect im­me­di­ately. In­stead, the city would have a 30-day re­prieve to de­cide whether to ask for an en banc hear­ing from the D.C. Cir­cuit.

But for Se­cond Amend­ment ad­vo­cates, the rul­ing was cause for cel­e­bra­tion.

Alan Got­tlieb, founder of the Se­cond Amend­ment Foun­da­tion, which rep­re­sented three gun own­ers in­volved in the case, called the rul­ing a huge win for gun rights and wel­comed the prospect of the case reach­ing the Supreme Court.

“So far, every time we have gone up against Wash­ing­ton, D.C., we have won. But every time D.C. has ap­pealed, so we ex­pect D.C. to ap­peal again,” Mr. Got­tlieb said.

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