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Gray Signs D.C. Handgun Law to 'Cure Alleged Constitutional Flaws'

Gray signed the D.C. handgun licensing law to comply with federal ruling. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

With little fanfare, Mayor Vincent Gray signed legislation Thursday evening legalizing the concealed carry of handguns in the District of Columbia in response to a lawsuit brought against the city by Second Amendment advocates.  

Under the terms of a stay in the Palmer v. District of Columbia ruling, District officials have until Oct. 22 to issue regulations related to the law, including how they will enforce a provision that outlaws carrying guns within 1,000 feet of any foreign dignitary or high-ranking federal official. The July 26 ruling briefly wiped the city's ban on handguns from the books, something the House tried to do this summer with an appropriations rider.  

"This law maintains our commitment to keeping guns out of the wrong hands and ensures the safety of all within the District of Columbia, while fully respecting the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution," Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier and D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan said in a joint statement.  

They say the law "cures the alleged constitutional flaws in the District’s licensing laws," but the plaintiffs in the Palmer lawsuit are dissatisfied. Opponents say D.C. is flying in the face of the court by crafting policies that are too restrictive.  

The law allows D.C. residents who own registered handguns and non-residents who have state-issued carry licenses to apply to the police for carry permits. Applicants would have to demonstrate the need for carrying a gun, and undergo more extensive training.  

On Oct. 2, about a week after the D.C. Council grudgingly approved the emergency measure, attorney Alan Gura asked the court for a permanent injunction on the city's handgun carry ban. Gura claims the city fails to treat carrying handguns as an individual right, and objects to multiple elements of the new law.  

In addition to giving the police chief discretion over handgun licensing, the law establishes a “Concealed Pistol Licensing Review Board” and lays out basic rules for its operation. The mayor and attorney general would have the power to appoint three of its five members. Gura argues the board "is tilted entirely toward those with a government, law enforcement, and prosecutorial background."  

Gura makes multiple references throughout the 31-page memo to the court that city leaders are acting "hostile" to the idea of handgun carrying.  

In an Oct. 8 hearing on police oversight, one councilmember took some by surprise by suggesting officers should not be armed.  

"My staff won’t let me tell you that I think we oughta get rid of guns in the city and that police shouldn’t have guns, so I’m not gonna tell you that,” said David Grosso, an at-large independent, according to WNEW , which first reported the comment.  

Proponents of the carry legislation 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 have withstood constitutional challenges in multiple federal appeals courts.  

If the new permit law stays in place, officials say it is hard to estimate how many concealed carry permits will be issued.  

"Since [District of Columbia v. Heller] allowed registration of handguns in 2008, I believe there's about 6,000 previously registered firearm owners," Lanier told reporters in September. She said she did not expect a large number of people to request the permits. "This is [one] of the lessons learned from Heller. I think everybody anticipated we'd be flooded with people trying to register the handguns in their home and we just didn't see that. That never happened."  

While the District works out the details of its new regulations, carrying a gun in public remains a criminal offense.  

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