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D.C. Gun Fight Advancing Through Courts

Norton has accused GOP lawmakers of bullying D.C. over its gun laws. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A federal appeals court has expedited the case of a trio of men who filed suit against the District of Columbia in February after being denied handgun carry licenses, and ruled that D.C. can keep enforcing a key provision of its concealed carry licensing system in the meantime.  

Backed by the Second Amendment Foundation, a nonprofit based in the state of Washington, the men challenged the discretionary nature of the D.C.'s gun licensing system, which requires gun owners demonstrate a "good" or "proper" reason to obtain a concealed carry permit. The lawsuit and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit's Monday ruling to allow it to proceed is one of many attempts by SAF to expand access to guns via the courts. In the legislative branch, GOP-led efforts to wipe out gun control laws in the nation's capital have been rebuked by local officials as congressional bullying, or federal meddling in local affairs.  

Eleven months ago, U.S. District Judge Frederick J. Scullin Jr., issued a weekend ruling that was hailed as a victory for the gun rights advocates. Amid the mixed and muddled response to an unexpected  order, D.C. police were briefly ordered not to arrest people for carrying pistols and deadly weapons in public.  

A federal judge quickly issued a hold on the ruling, at the request of District officials, who began plotting a new course to keep gun control intact. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton , D-D.C., vowed to defend a new, narrowly tailored law from congressional interference when it cleared the D.C. Council in September.  

In May, Scullin put D.C.'s so-called good reason licensing requirement on hold, agreeing that it violated Second Amendment rights. His ruling was temporarily overturned, and Monday's ruling makes that permanent while the case proceeds.  

“This means that D.C. officials will be able to continue protecting the public and enforcing our gun laws while we pursue that appeal,” D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine said in a statement.  

At a minimum, a “good reason” to carry a handgun requires showing a special need for self-protection, supported by  evidence of specific threats or previous attacks that demonstrate a special danger to the applicant’s life. Living or working in a high crime area is not itself a "good reason” to carry in D.C.  

“Our procedure for issuing gun-carry permits is very similar to laws in New Jersey, New York and Maryland that federal appeals courts have upheld,” Racine said. “We believe we have a very strong case.”  

In a separate order, the appeals court set a Sept. 24 deadline for written briefings from both sides, calling for oral arguments soon after briefings.  

Republicans on Capitol Hill would still like to dismantle local gun laws by enacting legislation to conform D.C. to federal law governing firearms. Their proposal would create a "shall-issue" permitting system for concealed carry, including provisions related to background checks and training.  

“By removing unnecessary restrictions and protecting the rights of homeowners to protect themselves, this bill will make Washington, D.C., a safer place for law-abiding citizens by restoring the original intent of the Second Amendment to our nation’s capital," Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said in a statement to CQ Roll Call last week. Jordan declared D.C.'s gun laws "some of the harshest in the nation."  

The plaintiffs in the appeal did not challenge the District's handgun registration scheme, the licensing requirement, or any other provision restricting the carry of handguns — including the training and background check requirements, and restrictions on the types of guns that may be carried.  

"[T]he question is whether guns in the hands of individuals who pass stringent, safety-based licensing requirements, and who are subject to meaningful regulations, pose any harm," attorney Alan Gura wrote in his 28-page memo opposing a stay of Scullin's order. "The evidence points in only one direction: no."  

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