DC Handgun Ban Ruled Unconstitutional

By a Jason Kalafat Defense Attorney Staff Writer

UPDATE: Oct. 3, 2014: The plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit that brought about the District of Columbia’s new concealed carry law have asked the federal judge who reviewed the matter to block the law’s implementation, according to the website guns.com. The motion in Palmer v. D.C. challenges the structure of the recently revised Washington, DC gun laws. The plaintiffs were successful in their bid to challenge the city’s ban on handguns outside the home in the District, with U.S. District Court Judge Frederick Scullin striking down the DC law last July and giving the District 90 days to either appeal or adopt gun licensing laws that adhere to constitutional requirements.  The DC council last month approved by unanimous vote a may-issue permitting or licensing process that gun advocates feel is too restrictive for those applying for a concealed carry permit. The challenge against the new regulations was filed Thursday, October 2, 2014.

July 28, 2014

The fight over gun control in Washington, DC continues to develop as a District Court Judge announced a decision Saturday that DC’s ban on handguns is unconstitutional.

In the ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Frederick J. Scullin Jr. stated that the Second Amendment gives people the right to carry guns outside of the home for self-defense. The suit that prompted this ruling was originally filed in 2009 by the nonprofit Second Amendment Foundation on behalf of three District of Columbia residents and one New Hampshire resident. The complainants felt that their Second Amendment rights were being violated by DC’s gun laws, which were amended following a 2008 Supreme Court decision that struck down the city’s total ban on carrying ready-to-use handguns in public, because they wanted to carry a gun for protection but could not get a permit.

Prior to the 2008 ruling, a 32-year-long handgun ban had been strongly in place in the District of Columbia. The new laws required residents to register their guns and keep them in their homes. Gun owners were also required to take a safety class, be photographed and fingerprinted, and re-register their weapons every three years. Those requirements were challenged in court in May but were upheld by a federal judge.

Judge Scullin’s decision cited the 2008 court case as well as a 2010 ruling involving Chicago’s handgun ban. He wrote, “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.” Scullin also wrote in his ruling that he was stopping enforcement of the 2008 law “unless and until” the city adopted a constitutionally valid licensing mechanism.

DC police officers were instructed Sunday not to enforce the laws prohibiting the carrying of guns in public. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier gave an order that District residents are permitted to carry pistols if the weapons are registered. However, the number of registered pistols is thought to be low, and a person caught carrying an unregistered pistol could be charged on those grounds. Lanier’s instructions to police also included that residents of other jurisdictions without felony records would not be charged under the ban on carrying pistols.

However, according to Ted Gest, the spokesman for the District’s Office of the Attorney General, this ruling may not be upheld for long. Gest defended the handgun ban in court, and said they will be “seeking a stay shortly.” Many officials find this ruling troubling and are also hoping to seek a stay on the ruling while they begin the process of appealing it. The city’s Attorney General, who defended the gun bans, said, “protecting government officials and infrastructure is a challenge in every city,” but even greater in DC. He believes that allowing people to carry handguns would make it “far more difficult” for police to ensure public safety and security.

The fact that the District of Columbia is our nation’s capital and the site of innumerable government agency offices does not mean that DC residents have different constitutional rights and protections than all other American citizens. Luckily, it seems that their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms will be protected, at least for now.

Jason Kalafat defense attorney is a dedicated criminal defense lawyer with extensive experience protecting the rights of the accused in the District of Columbia. If you are facing gun charges in DC, contact his office today for a free case evaluation.