D.C. has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, but over the weekend a federal judge overturned a key provision that prevents people from legally carrying handguns in the District’s public places. U.S. District Judge Frederick Scullin Jr., a senior U.S. District Court judge on the Northern District of New York who was appointed by President George H. W. Bush in 1992, issued the ruling. Got questions? Here are answers:
What was the ruling?
The judge’s ruling found that D.C.’s ban of carrying a handgun in public was unconstitutional. Under the ruling, D.C. residents and nonresidents can carry a handgun in a public place, and D.C. can compose “constitutional” laws that would regulate who gets to carry guns in public.
“There is no longer any basis on which this 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,” the opinion reads. “Therefore, the Court finds that the District of Columbia’s complete ban on the carrying of handguns in public is unconstitutional.”
Who filed the case?
Tom Palmer, the Second Amendment Foundation, and three other plaintiffs filed the case more than four years ago after the D.C. police department rejected Palmer’s application in 2009 to register a handgun when he stated in his application that he may use it for self-defense outside of his home. Palmer was also one of the plaintiffs in Heller vs. District of Columbia, which made it all the way to the Supreme Court and similarly overturned a key provision of D.C.’s strict gun laws.
How is this ruling different than the Heller ruling?
The Heller case chiefly overturned D.C.’s ban on handguns. It did not define where these handguns could be carried. This ruling says handguns can be carried in public.
What’s the D.C. government going to do about it?
D.C.’s Office of the Attorney General says it is seeking a stay on the decision, which would prevent the judge’s ruling from going into effect while the District is appealing it.
Still, Police Chief Cathy Lanier issued an order Sunday instructing D.C. police not to arrest District residents carrying registered handguns in public places, a spokeswoman from the Metropolitan Police Department confirmed. Police were also told not to arrest people from other jurisdictions for carrying handguns in public if they are abiding by their home state’s laws and are not a convicted felon. But because the government is seeking a stay, police could return to enforcing the ban soon.
What’s the reaction to this ruling in the District?
A number of D.C. officials, including Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Ward 4 Councilmember and mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser, have released statements condemning the ruling.
“Saturday’s decision goes beyond the Supreme Court’s Heller decision, which was limited to possessing a ready-to-use handgun in the home. The Supreme Court has not ruled on any gun matter except the right to possess a handgun in the home,” Norton wrote in a press release. “Saturday’s decision is not an invitation for intervention by Members of Congress who have no responsibility for public safety in the District of Columbia. It is a call for clarification by the federal courts.”
Gun photo by Shutterstock