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Public Safety

D.C. attorney general wants federal judges to look at city’s strict gun rules again

By Ann E. Marimow

August 24, 2017 at 3:03 PM

D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine asked a federal appeals court to rehear a challenge to the city’s law that makes it difficult for gun owners to get concealed-carry permits. (Alex Brandon/AP)

The District's top lawyer on Thursday asked a federal appeals court to rehear a challenge to the city's strict limits on carrying concealed firearms.

Attorney General Karl A. Racine's decision follows a ruling last month from a three-judge panel that blocks the District's requirement of a "good reason" to obtain a permit because the requirement prevents most residents from carrying guns in public places.

City officials say the restrictions are "common sense gun rules" needed to promote public safety in the nation's capital. Racine wants a full complement of judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to review the panel's ruling against the city.

"Review by the full court is necessary due to the importance of this question, which affects the safety of every person who lives in, works in, or visits the District," according to the new court filing. "Through their elected representatives, District residents have decided that public carrying without 'good reason' is inconsistent with public safety."

The city's permitting system remains in effect while the appeal is under review. If the court declines to revisit the panel's decision, the order to permanently block enforcement of the "good reason" requirement would take effect seven days later.

In its 2-to-1 ruling last month, the panel found the D.C. law in violation of the Second Amendment.

"Bans on the ability of most citizens to exercise an enumerated right would have to flunk any judicial test," wrote Judge Thomas B. Griffith, who was joined by Judge Stephen F. Williams.

Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson dissented, siding with the city and finding that the regulation "passes muster" because of the District's unique security challenges and because the measure does not affect the right to keep a firearm at home.

Related: [Appeals court blocks enforcement of D.C.’s strict concealed-carry law]

The Supreme Court in 2008 used a D.C. case to declare for the first time an individual right to gun ownership apart from military service. But the high court has shown little interest in going further to decide whether the Second Amendment applies outside the home.

In June, for instance, the Supreme Court declined to take up a California case in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit said the Second Amendment does not protect the right to carry a concealed weapon in public.

Related: [Gun ruling raises an issue the Supreme Court has been reluctant to review]

Under the District's law, residents who want a permit to carry a concealed firearm must show that they have "good reason to fear injury" or a "proper reason," such as transporting valuables. The regulations specify that living or working "in a high crime area shall not by itself" qualify as a good reason to carry.

As of July 15, D.C. police had approved 126 concealed-carry licenses and denied 417 applicants, according to the police department.

The District's requirement is similar to rules in other states, including Maryland, New York and New Jersey.

Petitions for rehearing by a full complement of judges on the D.C. Circuit are filed frequently, but the court rarely grants such requests, taking up less than a handful each term.

A single judge may call for a vote on such a petition, but a rehearing requires sign-off from a majority of the 11 active judges on the court.

Read more:

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Ann Marimow covers legal affairs for The Washington Post. She joined the Post in 2005, and has covered state government and politics in California, New Hampshire and Maryland.

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