Judge Rules D.C.’s Restrictive Carry Law Likely Unconstitutional

On May 17, 2016, a federal judge ruled that a key provision of the District of Columbia’s concealed carry law was likely unconstitutional. At issue was a provision in the law that required applicants to show a “good reason” beyond self-defense to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

The case stems from a lawsuit filed last year by, Matthew Grace, a District gun owner, and the gun rights group Pink Pistols, alleging that the D.C. gun law violates the core Second Amendment right to bear arms for self-defense, including protecting themselves from nonspecific threats and threats that arise unexpectedly.

U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon found that the law violates the “core right of self-defense” granted in the Second Amendment, despite arguments from District officials that the regulation is needed to prevent crime and protect the public.

“The enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table,” Leon wrote in a 46-page opinion, quoting the 5-to-4 Supreme Court decision in the 2008 landmark Heller case that established a constitutional right to keep firearms inside one’s home. Judge Leon said the right extends outside the house as well. “Because the right to bear arms includes the right to carry firearms for self-defense both in and outside the home, I find that the District’s ‘good reason’ requirement likely places an unconstitutional burden on this right.”

“The District’s understandable, but overzealous, desire to restrict the right to carry in public a firearm for self-defense to the smallest possible number of law-abiding, responsible citizens is exactly the type of policy choice the Justices had in mind,” he wrote. The law gives police discretion to grant licenses to applicants who show “good reason to fear injury” or “any other proper reason for carrying a pistol,” such as having a job transporting cash or other valuables.

Judge Leon went on to immediately enjoin the D.C. police from denying concealed carry licenses to applicants who meet all eligibility requirements other than the requirement that the applicant demonstrate a ‘good reason to fear injury to his or her person or property’ or ‘any other proper reason for carrying a pistol.

The ruling is another in a long line of rulings by federal judges against various D.C. gun laws. The current law, which operates on a “may issue” framework, allows D.C. officials to deny permits to those who pass the required background check and training so long as they determine the applicant doesn’t have a “good reason” to carry a firearm in public.

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine said the city would request a stay on the ruling in addition to filing an appeal. “We continue to believe our ‘good reason’ requirement for a concealed-carry permit is both constitutional and in line with similar laws in New Jersey, New York and Maryland – all of which have been upheld by federal appeals courts,” he said in a statement. “Just two months ago, another judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia declined to enjoin the District from enforcing the same requirement at issue in today’s ruling. We believe that the District’s gun laws are reasonable and necessary to ensure public safety in a dense urban area, and we will request a stay of this decision while we appeal.”

Since the District approved its new concealed-carry permitting system in September 2014, the city of more than 600,000 had only issued 62 gun carry permits as of March 9.

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