IN DECIDING not to appeal a ruling that threw out part of D.C.’s restrictive law on permits for people carrying concealed guns in public, city officials acted pragmatically. Even though they said they were right about the law being constitutionally sound and beneficial to the public, they weren’t willing to put up a fight. Such abandonment of principle normally would give us pause, but in this case D.C. officials were wise to recognize the risks, not only to D.C. but also to other parts of the country if they were unsuccessful.
D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D) last week announced there would be no appeal to the Supreme Court of the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia striking down the city's requirement that people have a "good reason" to obtain a permit to carry a gun on the street. An appeals panel in July ruled 2 to 1 that the law violates the Second Amendment right to bear arms, and the full court recently refused to rehear the case.
That created a dilemma. States such as California, New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Connecticut have similar concealed-carry rules that have been upheld by federal appeals courts. Would those rulings help buttress the District’s position in an appeal to the Supreme Court, or would the laws of all those states be jeopardized by an adverse ruling?
The Supreme Court in its landmark Heller ruling found an individual right to bear arms separate from militia service, but it has not considered cases that would decide whether the right applies outside the home. Given the makeup of the court and what happened in Heller, which also was a D.C. case, the District's caution in not wanting to be the prod for further loosening of gun laws is understandable. Not only would residents of those states be adversely affected, but, as Mr. Racine noted, more weapons would come into D.C. from nearby jurisdictions. Notably, all of the District's leadership, including the mayor and the chairman of the D.C. Council, concurred with Mr. Racine's reasoning.
It is important to remember, as D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham stressed, that there are still strict requirements — not struck down by the court — that must be adhered to in order to legally carry a concealed weapon in the District. At least 16 hours of training and an extensive background check, including being photographed and fingerprinted, are required. And there is a long list of locations where people are prohibited from carrying guns. The D.C. Council might want to determine whether additional locations should be added or whether other protections should be put in place. Private commercial property such as restaurants and stores can prohibit guns if they post signs, an option that should be encouraged.
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