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D.C. Lawmakers Scramble To Respond To Ruling On Gun Ban

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D.C. Police have been instructed not to arrest people carrying handguns in the District.
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D.C. Police have been instructed not to arrest people carrying handguns in the District.

Lawmakers in D.C. are scrambling to respond after a federal judge overturned D.C.'s ban against carrying guns outside the home on Saturday.

Police in the District are no longer arresting people for carrying handguns in public and D.C. Attorney General Irv Nathan has sought a stay in the ruling.

In his ruling, Judge Frederick J Scullin said the issue was not even difficult.

"[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 ruling appeared to catch officials in D.C. off-guard. Lawyers for the city scrambled to figure out how to respond. The police department rushed out new guidelines to its officers, ordering them to not arrest people carrying registered handguns outside their homes.

Local lawmakers will now likely be called back from summer recess to re-write the gun laws, in case a potential appeal of the ruling falls short. Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) is a member of the D.C. Council, which passed the law banning handguns in public. She says D.C. has special requirements as it concerns guns.

"Obviously, we are the capital of the United States, all of the federal buildings, all of the dignitaries, all of the embassies. We have a situation, certainly post-9/11, where the heightened concern about people on the street is extraordinary," Cheh says.

And D.C. lawmakers point to history to back up their argument.

In a statement, the Council Chairman Phil Mendelson wrote that four U.S. presidents have been assassinated and five others have been shot at. The right to carry a gun in public, the city argues, must be restricted more heavily in D.C. than anywhere else.

But the attorney for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against D.C., Alan Gura, said that line of reasoning doesn't make much sense.

"That’s a silly argument. The fact of the matter is that every city in America has important installations, foreign consulates, the president and members of congress who visit — every state in the union. And the gun laws don't change when important people are in town." Gura says. "You know who else is important? The people of Washington D.C. And they are important enough to enjoy their constitutional rights."

Gura says while there can and should be restrictions on guns in sensitive places, a complete ban on carrying handguns is unfair.

The attorney general for D.C. filed a motion with Judge Scullin late yesterday, asking for an immediate stay of his ruling to give the city time to respond.

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