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D.C. Council Considering Handgun Permit Bill

Gray worked with law enforcement and D.C. councilmembers to craft a new gun law. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call FIle Photo)

District of Columbia officials have grudgingly taken up the task of putting in place a handgun permit system in response to a July 26 federal court ruling that struck down the local ban on carrying pistols outside the home.  

Last week, during a southeast Washington memorial ceremony marking the one year anniversary of the deadly Navy Yard shooting, Mayor Vincent Gray lamented the violence that "happened right within the view of the Capitol Dome," and called on Congress to come up with a solution.  

"We have tough gun laws in the District of Columbia, which probably will have to be relaxed to some extent because of the Palmer case," Gray said, referring to the decision by Judge Frederick Scullin Jr. in the case against the city. Gun control laws, he said, "are now under attack by Second Amendment advocates who believe in putting the right of gun owners before community safety." City attorneys filed a motion asking Scullin to reconsider, but it was rejected on Sept. 17. Under the terms of a stay, the District has until Oct. 22 to comply with the ruling. Officials are still considering an appeal, according to Ted Gest, a spokesman for the D.C. Attorney General's office.  

On Tuesday, the D.C. Council will consider a bill that would allow D.C. residents who own registered handguns and non-residents who have state-issued carry licenses to apply to D.C. police for carry permits. People would have to demonstrate the need for carrying a gun, and undergo more extensive training.  

"This flies in the face of the court's order," said Alan Gura, the lawyer who argued against D.C.’s gun law on behalf of the nonprofit Second Amendment Foundation. He said the legislation amounts to making permits "into some sort of administrative privilege doled out at the hand of the police chief."  

Proponents point out that the bill is modeled after gun laws in New York, New Jersey and Maryland. They say each of those states’ licensing laws has withstood constitutional challenges in multiple federal appeals courts.  

Under the proposed legislation, guns would still be prohibited in sensitive locations including the Capitol grounds, government buildings, public transit and anywhere where alcohol is sold and served. Schools, universities and circumstances where protection of public officials, visiting dignitaries and demonstrators is paramount would also be considered sensitive places where guns are banned.  

It establishes a criminal penalty for carrying a handgun while impaired by alcohol or drugs. Commercial private property owners and D.C. residents would have the authority to prohibit handguns from their property.  

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