THERE ARE powerful reasons why a federal judge’s decision striking down the District’s ban on carrying handguns outside of a person’s home should not stand. Some are particular to this city: Washington is where the president lives, where the country’s lawmakers convene and where the foreign diplomatic corps works. Having more guns on the streets would bring new risks to a city that already faces unique security challenges as the nation’s capital.
U.S. District Judge Frederick J. Scullin Jr.’s opinion that the District’s long-standing ban on carrying handguns in public was unconstitutional clearly caught city officials off-guard. Not only did the judge release his ruling on a Saturday, but he failed to provide the customary stay delaying its implementation so that the government could prepare. That had D.C. officials scrambling over the weekend. What were the implications? How to comply? The confusion resulted in police being ordered not to arrest people for carrying registered pistols and deadly weapons in public.
Fortunately, the District got some needed breathing room Tuesday when Judge Scullin, a senior jurist from Upstate New York who took over the 2009 case when another judge retired, granted D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan’s request for a 90-day stay. District officials must now figure out how to respond. A two-track approach is under discussion: City lawyers would pursue an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, arguing that Second Amendment gun rights do not extend to carrying weapons outside the home, while the D.C. Council would enact a licensing mechanism for carry permits that could withstand constitutional challenge.
The latter approach would mimic what the District did in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller that struck down the city’s ban on handguns. With the complete ban outlawed, the District put in place strict registration requirements and prohibited large-capacity magazines and assault weapons. The registration requirements could also be applied to carry permits and have been implemented by other jurisdictions.
The city’s fix to Heller was upheld by a federal court but is being appealed by gun rights advocates, who argue the city’s restrictions are more severe than those elsewhere. It’s important that District officials proceed cautiously in crafting a defense that can withstand a court challenge, but they must not ignore the special obligations of public safety in the nation’s capital.
Read more on this topic: