Is DC being too “Gun shy”?

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By Keyonna Jones-Lindsay

Back in July, a federal court judge ruled the District’s previous ban on carrying concealed guns was unconstitutional and provided the D.C. council with a timeline to craft a system that would allow concealed carry under certain circumstances. The court ruled, in the District, a person’s Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms for self-defense must extend beyond their home.

In September, in conjunction with the “Brady Campaign,” an organization dedicated to gun control, D.C. council members passed a bill they claimed to be modeled after other successful laws that withstood court and legal challenges. The initial bill required conceal carry applications to go through Police Chief Cathy Lanier and prevent concealed weapons from government buildings, schools and a 1,000-foot rule around dignitaries. In addition to 18 hours of firearm training, one of the main provisions of the bill required applicants to prove their special need for self-protection.

U.S. District Judge Frederic J. Scullin Jr., the judge who overturned the city’s ban on firearms back in July, presided over a hearing mid-November that asked for the consideration of the city being held in contempt of his previous order that required officials to develop a licensing scheme “consistent with constitutional standards enabling people to exercise their Second Amendment right to bear arms.”

Attorney Alan Gura, representative of four gun owners in the 2009 Palmer v. District case, argued despite passing new laws that allow for concealed carry, the city hasn’t lived up to its court ordered obligation. “There is no way in the world my clients can obtain a license to carry a gun,” Attorney Gura argued in court, noting his clients were unable to prove their special need for protection and therefore couldn’t obtain a permit under the District’s strict requirements.

Judge Scullin asked District lawyers if they had any statistics or research to show that restricting gun-carry only to individuals who can demonstrate a special need would promote the safety of the public. Assistant Attorney General Andrew Saindon admitted he did not have such evidence but insisted the licensing system was complying with the judge’s orders. The district appealed the ruling, suggesting a separate lawsuit should be initiated to challenge the council’s passed regulations. Judge Scullin disagreed, indicating he retained the right to determine whether new laws were compliant with his previous ruling and required the district to produce more in-depth argument for the courts by the beginning of this month.

December 2, the council modified their previous measure by allowing gun owners to carry handguns inside restaurants and voted 11-1 in favor of preliminarily approving the bill into permanent legislation. “It permits carrying in ordinary restaurants,” said Chairman Phil Mendelson. “Unless of course the owner says no.” Venues where a concealed carry permit would allow guns has been a long debate for the council. Under the new provisions, private businesses, unless owners post notice stating otherwise, have a presumption of allowing concealed carry. On the other hand, private residences and places of worship are presumed not to allow concealed guns. Regardless of venue, the bill holds that drinking alcohol while in possession of a concealed weapon is illegal. This latest version of the bill will go for final review and vote on December 16.

Meanwhile, the progress to obtain a concealed carry permit has been slow for gun owners. According to the bill, Chief Lanier has 90 days to accept or deny an application, and if accepted, the applicant is required to enroll and partake in 18 hours of firearms training. Although gun owners were able to start the application process mid-October, no permits have been issued. According to the Washington Times, part of the problem is the department has yet to approve instructors qualified to instruct the training course. There have been some applications to be denied and those gun owners have the opportunity to appeal to a Concealed Pistol Licensing Review Board, made up of a forensic services medical director with the Department of Behavioral Health, a retired Capitol Police officer, a retired assistant U.S. Attorney, an assistant deputy attorney general, a mental health professional and two D.C. residents familiar with handling firearms, specific to their operation and care.

Despite the recent modifications to the bill, none of them answer to, or even acknowledge the arguments of Attorney Gura against requiring gun owners to provide a specific threat or need for protection. “If they’re going to spend time doing anything, they should make the law relevant to people who might want to exercise their Second Amendment rights, “Mr. Gura said in response to the slight changes. A decision from Judge Scullin regarding whether or not to hold the city contempt for their restrictive gun laws remains pending.

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