D.C. officials will not be able to enforce the city's strict limits on carrying concealed firearms on the streets of the nation's capital under a court order issued Thursday.
The brief statement from a federal appeals court in Washington is the latest setback for the District's efforts to restrict the carrying of guns in public places to people who demonstrate a "good reason" to do so.
The District's top lawyer had asked the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to rehear a challenge to the gun-control law after a panel of three judges ruled against the city in July. But on Thursday, the appeals court declined, without explanation, to revisit the case.
The city's permitting system had remained in effect while the appeal to the full court was under review — a holding pattern that meant the District still was able to bar most residents from carrying concealed guns.
The city now has seven calendar days to decide whether to ask the appeals court to put Thursday's ruling on hold as it decides whether to seek review by the Supreme Court.
The order from the D.C. Circuit indicates that none of the court's 10 judges who reviewed the city's petition asked for a vote on the request for rehearing.
"We're pleased that our victory remains intact and that people in Washington, D.C., will have the ability to defend themselves against violent crime," said attorney Alan Gura, who represents one of the challengers, Brian Wrenn. "The city has some decisions to make now as to whether they want the Supreme Court to take a look. We wouldn't necessarily oppose that."
D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who leads the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, said the court's decision not to rehear the case "puts the city in a bind."
"Our city will be less safe with more guns on the streets and it will make the job of our metropolitan police officers all the more difficult," Allen said in a statement.
City officials and gun rights groups have tangled in court for years over the District's gun laws, which led to a landmark 2008 Supreme Court case that declared for the first time a Second Amendment right to gun ownership separate from military service.
The Supreme Court has shown little interest in going further to decide whether the Second Amendment applies outside the home.
Four appeals courts, in cases arising in Maryland, New Jersey, New York and California, have upheld laws similar to the District's. If D.C. officials decide to try to save the city's law by appealing to the Supreme Court, the D.C. Circuit's ruling could set up the kind of split among circuits that the high court looks for before agreeing to hear cases.
"The court will have to step in now to provide uniformity in how we understand the Second Amendment," said Adam Winkler, law professor at the University of California at Los Angeles.
Under current law, D.C. residents who want a permit to carry a concealed firearm must show they have "good reason to fear injury." The rules 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.
In July, a panel of the D.C. Circuit ruled on a 2-to-1 vote that the District's "good-reason law" is akin to an outright ban in violation of the Second Amendment.
"The good-reason law is necessarily a total ban on most D.C. residents' right to carry a gun in the face of ordinary self-defense needs," wrote Judge Thomas B. Griffith, who was joined by Judge Stephen F. Williams.
In asking for review by the full court, Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D) called the restrictions "common sense gun rules" necessary to promote public safety in a city with unique security challenges.
Racine said in a statement that he is disappointed in the decision and will consult with the mayor, council members and the police department about what to do next.