The plaintiffs who successfully sued to overturn the District’s long-standing ban on carrying firearms in public asked a federal judge Thursday to bar the city from enforcing its new law to regulate weapons, arguing that it is unconstitutional.
In a motion, the four people and the Second Amendment Foundation asked U.S. District Judge Frederick J. Scullin Jr. to enjoin the D.C. government from enforcing restrictions on carrying guns in public “unless and until such time as the District of Columbia adopts a licensing mechanism consistent with constitutional standards enabling people to exercise their Second Amendment right to bear arms.”
When the D.C. Council passed the new law unanimously Sept. 23, Alan Gura, attorney for the plaintiffs, called the legislation “something of a joke.” He added, “It’s not much progress to move from a system where licenses are not available to a system where licenses are only available if the city feels like issuing them.”
According to D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), who drafted the bill with mayoral and police officials, the new carry legislation is among the strictest in the nation, requiring applicants to state good reason to carry a weapon, matching laws in Maryland, New Jersey and New York.
Mendelson said he would “be surprised if a year from now it was more than a couple hundred” applicants who qualify.
Once Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) signs the legislation, D.C. police will set up a licensing framework.
In passing the emergency legislation, which is effective for 90 days, city officials said they could refine the law through the D.C. Council’s regular, lengthier legislative process of public hearings, multiple council votes and a congressional review.
They said they were acting, somewhat grudgingly, to satisfy the courts despite political agreement that the District should have stringent gun control.
Mendelson also said he expected that the new law would be challenged by gun advocates.
“I think that their position is unreasonable, and it’s out of step with the jurisprudence,” he 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.”
According to a memorandum circulated among members and staff Thursday, the council will revisit the law at its Tuesday meeting to make a technical change allowing prosecutors to more quickly resume charging offenders with carrying handguns without a permit.
The Office of Attorney General of the District Irvin B. Nathan said, “The District will respond fully in court to this motion, which has no merit under governing federal law.”
The new law 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.
Applicants must show “good reason to fear injury to his or her person or property” or “any other proper reason for carrying a pistol” and must pass background checks and training requirements. The police chief would issue final licensing decisions, and a five-member review board would handle appeals.
Federal judges have upheld similar “may-issue” discretionary laws in Maryland and New Jersey, but an appeals court recently struck down a California law.
Firearms 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.