Plaintiff in D.C. handgun ruling: ‘It felt good’

Columnist

Not long after a federal judge overturned the District’s ban on carrying a pistol in public, George Lyon concealed a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver in a pocket holster, walked out of his home in Northwest Washington and took a stroll.

“It felt good,” said Lyon, one of four plaintiffs in the case — Palmer v. District of Columbia — which was filed in 2009 and finally decided Saturday. Lyon had also been an original plaintiff in the landmark 2008 Supreme Court ruling, District of Columbia v. Heller , that overturned the city’s ban on keeping handguns in the home.

He could have worn the gun openly.

“I think that at this time, with carrying in the District being only a few days old,” he said Monday, a day before the judge put a 90-day hold on the decision, “it is not the right time to introduce ‘open carry,’ ” referring to guns carried in plain view as opposed to concealed. “Some people may find the sight of a citizen openly carrying a firearm to be disconcerting.”

Not all gun owners share his sensibilities. Photographs of men with guns posing at the Capitol and the Supreme Court were recently posted on the Virginia Gun Owners Forum’s Web site. VGOF has urged that gun owners show restraint.

“It is VGOF’s official stance at this time that it WOULD NOT BE PRUDENT TO CARRY A FIREARM INTO WASHINGTON DC for several reasons,” it said in a statement. One of the reasons: “There is still a lot of confusion related to this ruling, and unless you have wads of cash and a good lawyer to defend you, then it would be best to let things air out for a while.”

Most people on the forum tended to agree. But one VGOF “gold supporter” and member of the Virginia Citizens Defense League commented, “Seeing the Capital (sic), and a citizen carrying openly in D.C. That’s just . . . awesome.”

In ruling in favor of the plaintiffs, U.S. District Judge Frederick J. Scullin Jr., said recent gun rights cases left him with no basis for upholding the D.C. ban on carrying firearms in public. In 2010, for instance, the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment provides Americans a “fundamental right” to bear arms that cannot be violated by state and local governments.

Scullin suggested that the District come up with a system for licensing those who want to carry guns in public. Lyon immediately offered to help. A lawyer, he drafted a proposal for carrying firearms in public that included “substantial training” for gun owners and sent it to D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D).

“People may have a constitutional right to carry a gun, but the responsible exercise of that right is that they be trained to use firearms effectively and safely,” Lyon said in the interview. Lyon is also a firearms instructor certified by the Maryland State Police, an NRA pistol instructor and an instructor of an NRA course on personal protection in the home. He’s has had more than 600 hours of firearms training so far.

Will gun owners really take time to be properly trained?

“I suspect initially there will be a limited number of people to jump through the hoops and do the training to carry a firearm,” he said. “But I also believe that over time people will recognize, as they have in the rest of the country, that it is better to have a gun and not need it than need it and not have it.”

He cited the shooting last week at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital in Darby, Pa., in which a psychiatric patient with a handgun killed a caseworker. The patient was then killed when a psychiatrist pulled a gun and shot him.

“Think of how many more people might have been killed if the doctor had not been armed,” Lyon said. “You can’t just rely on police to protect you. It’s not realistic. The job of the police is to deter and investigate.”

And that, he says, is why the Second Amendment guarantees citizens the right to keep and bear arms “for self-defense.”

The .38 revolver that Lyon carried from his home after the ruling had been a commemorative gift from Smith & Wesson after the Heller win. He would not say where he had gone with the holstered gun, only that “I certainly was hoping that I was not placed in a situation where I had to use it.”

To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/milloy.

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