D.C. gun owners could begin applying to carry concealed weapons within weeks under emergency legislation announced Wednesday in response to a federal judge’s ruling in July that the city’s firearms law was unconstitutional.
Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), accompanied by public safety officials and D.C. Council leaders, remarked on the urgency of the situation at a news conference held to unveil the proposed regulations.
“The court’s actions require a swift and unified response,” Gray said at the news conference, adding that the emergency legislation — which includes permit and testing requirements — would “ensure the continued safety” of District residents.
The council is scheduled to vote on the legislation next week, said the council chairman, Phil Mendelson (D).
The bill, modeled on laws enacted in New York, New Jersey and Maryland, will allow District residents who own registered handguns and nonresidents who have state-issued gun-carrying licenses to apply to D.C. police for permits.
The wearing of a holstered weapon in public view would not be allowed under the proposed law, Mendelson said.
D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier would issue permits to carry weapons under the new regulations, and applicants would have to demonstrate that they require a firearm because of a specific danger.
Applicants who are denied licenses could appeal the chief’’s decision to a five-member review board appointed by the mayor.
“We cannot eliminate guns,” Mendelson said at the news conference. “We can eliminate the risk that the person will misuse the gun.”
In an earlier interview, Mendelson said prohibiting guns “probably cannot sustain judicial review, so we’re focusing on the individual.”
“What we want to do is minimize the indicators that a person might have a mental illness or history of violence or a criminal record,” he said. Another goal, he said, is to “have a scheme that is relatively simple and can be understood.”
The legislation was drafted in consultation with Lanier and D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan, both of whom attended the news conference.
The legislation would prohibit the carrying of guns on public transportation and in government buildings, schools, day-care facilities and taverns. Federal law already prohibits the carrying of weapons on most federal property.
The proposal would establish a 1,000-foot no-carry zone around events involving the movement of dignitaries, such as presidential motorcades, and some other large-scale events. To be arrested and charged under that provision, however, a licensed gun owner would have to be given notice of the law by an officer and subsequently fail to leave the no-carry zone.
The legislation would reinstate a test for carrying a gun that existed for many years under a law Congress approved in 1931. That law allowed the District’s police chief to issue a license if the applicant had “good reason to fear injury” and was a “suitable person” to be licensed.
Under the bill’s provisions, applicants could not have suffered a mental illness — or any other condition that might make them a risk — for at least five years before seeking the licence.
The new law is being proposed after years of litigation targeting the city’s relatively strict gun laws.
From the 1970s through 2008, the city banned the private ownership of handguns, except by law enforcement officers. After the Supreme Court established a constitutional right to keep a handgun in the home, gun rights advocates took aim at the city’s ban on carrying handguns in public.
U.S. District Judge Frederick J. Scullin Jr.’s ruling striking down the city’s carry ban is under a 90-day stay, granted to give officials time to rewrite the law, and the city has asked Scullin to reconsider his decision. The plaintiffs in the case, who include gun owners living and working in the city, have opposed a longer stay and the request for reconsideration.
Nathan, who has said the District is considering appealing Scullin’s decision, declared that the legislation would “pass constitutional muster.”
Should the emergency bill pass Tuesday, it would become effective for 90 days immediately upon Gray’s signature. The police department would then have to issue regulations governing the permit process, which would take additional time, Mendelson said, but permit applications could start being accepted within weeks.
The plaintiffs’ attorney, Alan Gura, said last month that there could be further litigation if the city tries to make it too difficult to obtain a carry permit or tries to impose broad geographic limitations on carrying concealed weapons.
Mendelson said he would not be surprised if the matter continues to play out in the courts. “The Second Amendment has become a heavily litigated issue, and because of that, I expect there will be further litigation,” he said. He added that city officials are “trying to find the right balance” between the public’s rights and public safety needs.
Gray, citing the one-year anniversary of the Washington Navy Yard rampage, in which 12 people were killed, made it clear that he is not pleased with having to set new regulations.
“I happen to be one who does not support people walking around with guns — concealed or otherwise,” he said. But he also said the District had to abide by the law.