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D.C. Grants First Concealed Carry Permits, Ending Decades-Long Prohibition

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Residents and non-residents alike are now allowed to apply for concealed carry permits in D.C.
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Residents and non-residents alike are now allowed to apply for concealed carry permits in D.C.

The Metropolitan Police Department has granted its first concealed carry permits, effectively ending the longstanding ban on carrying handguns in public that was deemed unconstitutional by a federal judge last year.

According to an MPD official, eight concealed carry permits have been granted and 11 denied since the department started accepting permit applications in late October. Since then, 69 people applied for the permits, though three were cancelled at the request of the applicant. Of the 66 completed applications, 34 were filed by D.C. residents and 32 by non-residents.

Last July, Judge Frederick Scullin ruled that the city's ban on carrying handguns — which had been in effect for 40 years — was an unconstitutional infringement on the Second Amendment. It followed a 2008 Supreme Court ruling that overturned the city's ban on handgun ownership; since then, over 3,000 handguns have been registered for use in the home.

Scullin stayed his ruling for 90 days, giving the D.C. Council time to draft and approve emergency legislation allowing residents and non-residents alike to apply for concealed carry permits. A permanent version of the bill was approved in December.

Under the restrictive "may-issue" permitting scheme, applicants for concealed carry permits have to meet one of three conditions: Prove that they face a personal threat, work in an industry that requires them to handle large amounts of cash or other valuables, or show that they would need a handgun to help defend an incapacitated relative. They also have to show that they have not suffered from a mental illness within five years and undergo 18 hours of training.

The city's rules also restrict where a gun-owner can carry their gun. Public transportation, schools, government buildings, bars, stadiums, and hospitals are off limits, as are protests and an area around the White House. Individuals carrying handguns also have to remain 1,000 feet away from U.S. or foreign dignitaries.

After an application is filed, MPD has 90 days to accept or reject it. City rules prohibit the department from releasing any specific information on the applicants or the reasons they cite in their applications, but one official with knowledge of the permitting process said that some of the applicants who were rejected simply cited the Second Amendment as a reason for requesting a concealed carry permit.

Jeff Bishop, an attorney who lives in Alexandria and works in D.C., applied on Oct. 25 and received a rejection letter on Saturday. He cited his father — who is disabled — as a reason for requesting a concealed carry permit, but says the rejection was not unexpected.

"To be honest, I’m not the least bit surprised. It is clear as a bell that the District has been blatantly hostile to even own a gun in your home, much less carry one," he says.

Bishop, who is licensed to carry a gun in Virginia, says he's surprised that no one from MPD called him to follow up on his application or ask for more details on his father, especially since the language in the city's regulations changed from the time he applied to the time he was rejected.

In the original regulations, MPD said that an applicant could cite a relative who is "physically or mentally incapacitated to a point where he or she cannot act in defense of himself or herself, or his or her property" as a reason to get a concealed carry permit.

But updated language published in the D.C. Register last week clarified that the applicant has to show that their relative has a "special need for self-protection distinguishable from the general community as supported by evidence of specific threats or previous attacks which demonstrate a special danger to the applicant’s life."

Bishop, 47, says that he is weighing his options for next steps, but says that he will likely take advantage of the appeal process spelled out in the city's regulations.

"If you go through all the hoops of a kangaroo court and get denied it’s easier to come back to a real court and say, 'Hey, I didn’t get a real hearing.' Whereas if you don’t, it’s like, 'Well, you had a process and you didn’t even use it,'" he says.

According to an MPD official, many of those applicants who were rejected could provide further information on future applications and be considered again. One applicant who was rejected due to a prior criminal history will not be allowed to reapply, they said.

Even though permits are being considered, the legal wrangling over the city's permitting scheme is not yet over. Alan Gura, the attorney representing the four plaintiffs who filed suit against D.C. in 2009 when they were denied permits to carry their handguns, says the scheme is too restrictive and has asked Scullin to hold the city in contempt.

The District is also pursuing its own legal options, and has appealed Scullin's original decision.

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