District Of Columbia Will Not Appeal Ruling Striking Down Concealed-Carry Law
The District of Columbia has announced that it will not appeal the decision of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia striking down its law requiring residents to show a “good reason” before being granted a license to care a concealed weapon:
District officials will not appeal a court order blocking enforcement of the city’s restrictions on carrying concealed guns in public, setting the stage for what could be a marked increase in firearms on the streets of the nation’s capital.
The city’s decision not to risk appeal to the Supreme Court comes as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is expected to issue an order as soon as Friday enforcing a ruling that struck down the District’s requirement that people seeking licenses to carry concealed weapons must demonstrate a “good reason” — such as a credible fear of violence — for carrying a gun in public.
Announcing his decision, D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D) said he continued to believe the city’s law was sensible and constitutional. But he said an unfavorable ruling on the law from the Supreme Court would put similar concealed-carry restrictions across the country in jeopardy.
“We must reckon with the fact that an adverse decision by the Supreme Court could have wide-ranging negative effects not just on District residents, but on the country as a whole,” Racine said in a statement.
The decision not to go to the high court means permit-seekers can begin applying to carry concealed weapons as soon as the appeals court issues a formal mandate officially eliminating the “good reason” requirement. Hundreds of applicants have been denied in recent years because of that requirement, but must still reapply — and go through criminal background checks and firearms training — once the law is scrapped.
“I don’t want to give anyone the misimpression that they can just go there and carry a gun right now,” D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said at a news conference Thursday, appearing with Racine, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), chairman of the council’s judiciary committee.
It is not yet clear whether city officials will attempt to rewrite the law to enforce additional permit restrictions beyond the requirements the appeals court left intact.
D.C. Council members could try to tighten regulations without violating the appeals court ruling by adding more training requirements, for instance, or by creating new security zones barring guns in public similar to those that exist around schools, public memorials and some government buildings.
But Mendelson said that the city already has extensive training requirements and buffer zones, and that many of the gun controls being discussed nationally — following the Las Vegas massacre — have already been adopted in the District.
“I would say there are no obvious changes,” Mendelson said.
The District’s choice of whether to appeal the case, Wrenn v. District of Columbia, was being closely watched by gun-control activists and state attorneys general across the country. Many argued against an appeal in the District because of the risk that an unfavorable Supreme Court ruling could strike down similar concealed-carry regulations in states such as California, New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, Hawaii, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Racine said he had received calls from gun-control advocates and elected officials in other parts of the country laying out the risks of an appeal. He said, however, he was focused on the District’s interests when he made his decision. A loss at the high court that loosened gun-control laws throughout the country could result in more weapons being carried into the District from nearby jurisdictions, he said.
The dilemma faced by city officials mirrored the choice made in 2007, when the same appeals court found the District’s handgun ban unconstitutional. Led by former mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), the city took the case, District of Columbia v. Heller, to the high court — prompting a landmark decision that established for the first time that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms separate from military service.
The Supreme Court has shown little interest in going further to decide whether the Second Amendment applies outside the home. The high court has declined to consider challenges to decisions by other circuit courts that have upheld similar concealed-carry restrictions.4
Given the fact that the Supreme Court has declined to hear virtually every appeal dealing with Second Amendment issues since the decision in McDonald v. Chicago in 2010 didn’t bode well for the District on the issue of whether or not the appeal would be accepted. However, the fact that the Circuit Court’s decision was at odds with Circuit Court decisions from around the country on the issue of restrictive concealed-carry laws created the strong possibility that this would not be the outcome in this case. If the court did accept this case for review, the odds would seem to have been in favor of a ruling that upheld the Court’s decision below striking down the District’s “good reason” requirement, one that is similar to concealed-carry laws in many jurisdictions around the country. That ruling would then become the next Heller case, a basis on which Plaintiffs could undo concealed-carry laws in cities and states around the country. This appears to be the main reason for declining to appeal the case, and it seems like it may have been a wise one from the perspective of gun control proponents notwithstanding the fact that many leaders of that movement seem to be regretting the decision.
This news comes just about a week after the full panel of the Court of Appeals announced that it had declined the District’s petition for an en banc review of the panel decision that was handed down in July, a move that made an appeal to the Supreme Court the District’s only legal option. In declining to appeal, the District has taken the course chosen by a handful of other jurisdictions that have decided to resolve their cases by means other than Supreme Court review. For example, in 2012, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, struck down Illinois’s restrictive concealed carry law. Instead of appealing that ruling, Illinois decided to revise their laws to reflect the issues raised in the Court’s decision. So far, that ruling has not been challenged, so it’s not clear whether it would be deemed accepted by the Court or not. What it did avoid, though, was avoid setting a national precedent. By not appealing the case, this option is now open to the District. Whether it takes that route is unclear, but if it doesn’t then the possibility exists of future challenges to the existing law that could end up before the Supreme Court. For now, though, that will have to wait, and we’ll have to wait for another case to get a ruling on this issue that resolves this issue nationally once and for all.
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