Ten months after striking down the District’s long-standing ban on carrying firearms in public as unconstitutional, a federal judge Monday ordered the city to halt enforcing a key provision of the new gun-permitting system it adapted in response.
As passed by the D.C. Council, the District’s new carry legislation remains among the strictest in the nation, requiring applicants to state good reason to carry a weapon in order to obtain a permit from police, matching laws in Maryland, New Jersey and New York.
However, in a 23-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Frederick J. Scullin Jr. ruled that condition — known as the “good reason/proper reason” requirement — still “impinges on Plaintiffs’ Second Amendment right to bear arms,” because it fails to target dangerous people or specifically how or where individuals carry weapons.
“The issue here is not whether the . . . requirement is a reasonable or wise policy choice. Rather, the issue is whether this requirement, no matter how well intended, violates the Second Amendment,” Scullin wrote.
The ruling, issued late in the day, runs counter to some federal appellate rulings and guts a law drafted by D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) with mayoral and police officials that allows city residents who own properly registered handguns, as well as nonresidents with a state carry license, to apply for a permit to bear a concealed weapon in the District.
Under a provision the city now cannot enforce, the law, passed in September, gave police discretion to grant licenses to applicants who showed “good reason to fear injury to his or her person or property” or “any other proper reason for carrying a pistol,” such as employment transporting cash or other valuables.
Applicants still must pass background checks and training requirements, with Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier issuing final licensing decisions.
Firearms also still cannot be carried in the District in schools, hospitals, government buildings, public transportation vehicles, establishments that serve alcohol, stadiums or arenas, or within 1,000 feet of a dignitary under police protection.
In a statement, D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine did not say whether the city would appeal. “We are reviewing the ruling; however, we believe that the law passed by the Council is constitutionally valid,” Racine said.
Mendelson was traveling and could not immediately be reached for comment, his office said.
Last fall, Mendelson said, “There’s no question that states have the right to substantially limit the ability of citizens to carry, and the District’s unique status as host to federal officials and the diplomatic corps makes the issue of carrying a fundamental safety concern.”
Alan Gura, attorney for Brian Wrenn, two other individual plaintiffs and the Second Amendment Foundation, said, “We’re extremely pleased with the decision. People don’t need to give a good reason for exercising a fundamental right.”
Gura, of the Gura & Possessky law firm in Alexandria, added, “The District can still regulate the carrying of firearms in the interest of public safety, but the city has to come to terms with the fact they are regulating a fundamental right.”
WAMU radio (88.5 FM) reported that as of late January, 66 people had applied for concealed-weapons permits. Police had granted requests by eight people and denied 11 others.
Scullin’s ruling runs counter to decisions by federal judges upholding similar “may-issue” discretionary laws in Maryland and New Jersey, including the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in March set aside a three-judge panel’s ruling relied upon by Scullin, and the full court will rehear arguments next month.
In his opinion, Scullin said the city failed to show that people with “good reason” to carry a firearm are any less likely to misuse it or pose a criminal or other threat than other people.
“Is the Court to conclude that people who do not have a heightened need for self-protection are more likely to commit violent crimes?” he asked.
The District argued that the proliferation of legal firearms in jurisdictions with more permissive gun regulations has led to an increased risk of gun deaths.
UCLA law professor Adam Winkler said there is a good chance that Scullin’s decision will be overturned on appeal. However, he said, the Supreme Court has not yet decided whether the Second Amendment requires cities such as the District to allow guns in public, or what kind of permitting is permissible, passing up several opportunities to do so in recent years.
“The D.C. case could be the next Second Amendment case in the Supreme Court,” Winkler said.