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Judge Throws Out D.C. Ban On Carrying Guns Outside The Home

For now, carrying a registered handgun outside of the home is legal in D.C.
For now, carrying a registered handgun outside of the home is legal in D.C.

This post has been updated.

Just over six years after the Supreme Court ruled that the District's ban on handguns was unconstitutional, a federal judge has now tossed out the city's laws prohibiting residents from carrying guns outside of their homes.

In an opinion published on Saturday, U.S. District Court Judge Frederick Scullin said that the city's rules did not meet the constitutional standards set by the 2008 Heller decision, which knocked down the handgun ban and established that the Second Amendment confers an individual right to gun ownership.

"[T]here is no longer any basis on which the Court can conclude that the District of Columbia's total ban on the public carrying of ready-to-use handguns outside the home is constitutional under any level of scrutiny," wrote Scullin, who was appointed by President George H.W. Bush and is based in Syracuse, New York. "Therefore, the Court finds that the District of Columbia's complete ban on the carrying of handguns in public is unconstitutional."

The case stems from a lawsuit filed in 2009 by D.C. residents Tom Palmer, George Lyon and Amy McVey, all of whom sought permits to carry concealed weapons in the wake of the Heller ruling. Another plaintiff, Edward Raymond, was a Maryland resident who was stopped while driving in D.C. and charged with carrying an unlicensed handgun.

In an interview with WAMU 88.5 last year, Palmer said that the right for residents to defend themselves should extend from the home. “I think that people have the right to defend themselves in their home but also on the street," he said.

After the Heller ruling, the D.C. Council implemented rules allowing residents to purchase and register handguns for use in their homes. In May, a federal judge found that the rules were constitutional.

Since then, congressional Republicans have tried to overturn the city's gun laws, including the prohibition on carrying outside of them home. This month, the House passed an amendment introduced by Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) that would stop the city's from enforcing its gun laws.

D.C. officials have long defended the ban on carrying gun outside the home by pointing to the high number of government officials and diplomats in the city.

"In addition to assisting the Secret Service with daily movements of the president and vice president around the city, and protecting foreign dignitaries, [the Metropolitan Police Department] also provides security support for more than 4,000 special events annually," argued former D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles in his brief seeking the suit’s dismissal.

Scullin did not touch upon that argument, instead focusing on past court rulings he said proved that residents should be able to both keep and bear arms. He did concede that D.C. would be able to impose restrictions of the carrying of guns in school and other sensitive locations.

In his ruling, Scullin prohibited D.C. from enforcing existing rules prohibiting both residents and non-residents from carrying registered guns outside their homes. In response, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier ordered officers not to arrest anyone carrying a gun that's properly registered, whether in D.C. or not. From 2009 through the present, 3,076 handguns have been registered in D.C.

A spokesman for Attorney General Irv Nathan says that the city will seek a stay of the ruling pending a possible appeal. In a statement, Lanier said that the police department may issue new guidelines on carrying guns in public.

“Unfortunately the recent court ruling has left many unanswered questions. We are meeting with the legal team for the City now to try to get those answers. We will be issuing additional guidance to the force and the public shortly. As soon as we have that guidance ready will get it out immediately," she said.

Update, 11:30 a.m.: In an interview, Palmer said he was happy with the ruling and that it would ultimately make the city safer. (You can hear the full interview here.)

"D.C. has plenty of firearms that are being carried by criminals, but law-abiding citizens have been forbidden from doing that. What this does is it makes it possible for the law-abiding, decent, peaceful, honest people to be able to carry firearms for their own self-defense," he said.

"I don't think this should be scary to people, and indeed it makes me feel more secure knowing that people who have gone through the process of acquiring a firearm legally are armed around us. I think it makes the citizenry around us more safe, not less so," he added.

Dct Opinion


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