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Norton to Congress: Hands Off D.C.'s New Gun Law

Norton vowed to defend D.C.'s narrowly crafted gun law. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Emergency legislation legalizing the carry of concealed handguns in the District cleared the D.C. Council unanimously on Tuesday afternoon, setting up a temporary "may-issue" permitting scheme.  

Under the legislation, guns are not allowed near Congress. Guns are outlawed within 1,000 feet of any foreign dignitary or high-ranking federal official. They are also banned near the White House in Northwest Washington, in an area bound by Constitution Avenue, H Street and 15th and 17th streets, and on most federal property, including the Capitol grounds. The law puts into place many other requirements and restrictions.  

Opponents like Alan Gura, the lawyer who argued against the city's ban on handguns in Palmer v. District of Columbia , argue the law gives the Metropolitan Police Department too much subjective discretion over who will be able to carry a gun. "A joke," is how Gura characterized the bill in a recent telephone interview.  

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who worked closely with law enforcement and city attorneys to craft the bill, told his unhappy colleagues that the District faced "tremendous harm" if lawmakers didn't act. Criminal prosecutions are no longer taking place, Mendelson said, and the problem cannot be fixed without a licensing scheme.  

Both Second Amendment activists and those who defended the city's ban on carrying handguns expect further litigation. D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan's office believes passage of the emergency legislation would not stop the city from appealing the ruling.  

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton vowed to defend the new, narrowly tailored law from congressional interference. City officials will work this fall to hone the law, and plan to put something more permanent in place. The D.C. Democrat wants U.S. District Judge Frederick J. Scullin Jr. to reconsider his July 26 decision.  

“I regret that a New York federal district court senior judge, sitting here by designation, overturned the District’s longstanding carry ban, even though the ruling was not compelled by Supreme Court or D.C. Circuit Court case law,” Norton said in a statement. “If any Member of Congress has nothing to do but to try to block or overturn this local legislation, I am prepared to take him on and suggest things to keep him busy.”  

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., tacked a provision onto a House spending bill in July would prohibit the District from enforcing its local gun safety laws, but the amendment was not included in the most recent continuing resolution.  

Norton said she has been working with her allies in the Senate and gun safety advocates to keep the Massie amendment out of the final fiscal 2015 appropriations bill.  

D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier has until Oct. 22 to figure out implementation. On that day, a 90-day stay of the gun ruling will expire.  

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