Judge Strikes Down D.C. Gun Requirement

     WASHINGTON (CN) – A District of Columbia law that requires applicants for concealed carry permits to provide “a good reason” for needing one violates the Second Amendment, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
     Responding to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2008 striking down the city’s ban on handguns, Washington, D.C., enacted strict new gun control measures last June that banned the open carry of guns in the city and put in place a set of age, criminal and personal history, mental health and physical requirements for people who wished to carry a concealed weapon.
     Applicants would also have to complete a gun safety course and an interview with the Metropolitan Police Department.
     The department could then issue a license if “it appears that the applicant has good reason to fear injury to his or her person or property or has any other proper reason for carrying a pistol,” according to U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon’s opinion filed Tuesday in D.C. Federal Court.
     Matthew Grace, a Washington resident who owns four guns, challenged the law last December after the city said he had not provided enough reason to receive a permit, according to the ruling.
     In his application, Grace pointed to his wife’s robbery, a string of other unsolved robberies at gunpoint in his neighborhood, and his discovery of shell casings on the sidewalk in front of his house as reasons he needed the permit, but the city was not swayed, the opinion states.
     The Pink Pistols, a shooting group that advocates for the lawful ownership of guns to protect the “sexual minority community,” joined Grace in asking the court to enjoin the city from enforcing the “good reason” requirement, arguing the provision violates his Second Amendment right to bear arms.
     “The Second Amendment guarantees to law-abiding, responsible adult citizens the fundamental constitutional right to bear arms outside the home , and that right cannot be subjected to the unfettered discretion of a government official or to whether a government official believes they have a ‘proper reason’ to exercise that right,” Grace said in his lawsuit. “The denial of Second Amendment rights caused by the District’s ‘proper reason’ requirement inflicts irreparable harm on law-abiding, responsible citizens including Mr. Grace.”
     Leon, a George W. Bush appointee, relied on Supreme Court precedent, the 1689 English Bill of Rights and “Blackstone’s Commentaries, an 1803 primer on English common law, to determine Washington’s “good reason” regulation falls under the authority of the Second Amendment.
     “Given the textual and historical evidence, I have little trouble concluding that under its original meaning the Second Amendment protects a right to carry arms for self-defense in public,” Leon wrote in his 46 page opinion.
     Throughout the case, the District maintained the “good reason” requirement falls outside of the Second Amendment’s protections because the government has long been able to ban certain types of gun-carrying that would be dangerous to the public.
     Leon said the argument “strains credulity” and was already struck down in federal court. He also hit the government for not considering the original intent of the law.
     “Moreover, defendants do not cite a single Colonial Era, Founding Era, or nineteenth-century commentator, let alone jurist, espousing an urban/rural divide on the right to carry arms,” Leon wrote. (Emphasis in original.)
     Leon said the D.C. government also misinterpreted the 1328 Statute of Northampton, which it claimed prevented people from carrying arms in crowded places. The English law only stopped people from carrying weapons in a “terrifying” manner, Leon wrote.
     After establishing the “good reason” provision of the Washington gun law does fall under the protections of the Second Amendment, Leon then determined the law is an unconstitutional restriction of its rights.
     Leon determined the main purpose of the Second Amendment is self-defense, therefore making the right to bear arms in public one of its core tenants.
     “Given that the Second Amendment’s central purpose is self-defense and that this need arises more frequently in public, it logically follows that the right to carry arms for self-defense in public lies at the very heart of the Second Amendment,” Leon wrote.
     While Washington compared the “good reason” provision to recognized measures that allow the government to restrict certain speech in specific places, Leon said these arguments “border on the frivolous.”
     “Indeed, the requirement’s intended effect is to prohibit the typical citizen from carrying a firearm outside his or her home for several legitimate and constitutionally protected purposes – including when in dangerous neighborhoods, where the need for protection is as undeniable as it is unfortunate, or for self-defense from unanticipated, suddenly arising threats – notwithstanding the fact that he or she can successfully clear a multitude of qualifying hurdles,” Leon wrote.
     He also brushed away the argument that the provision is the same as laws prohibiting certain types of weapons, saying Washington’s law goes much farther than those regulations.
     “The District continues to rely on the mantra ‘more guns equals more crime’ to prove the safety benefits of disarming typical law-abiding citizens like Grace, who do not face a particularized threat,” Leon wrote. “But there can be no doubt that at least some of those citizens seek a carrying license for the legitimate purpose of protecting against an unexpected confrontation. The District’s policy thus bans some citizens from exercising their constitutional right to carry firearms outside the home for self-defense, and no amount of proof of the negative effects of exercising a constitutional right can justify a ban.” (Emphasis in original).
     While he declined to declare the “good reason” provision unconstitutional on its face, Leon determined the law failed the strict scrutiny he had to apply to it.
     “Although the District’s ‘good reason’ requirement likely does keep guns out of the hands of some people likely to misuse them, it does so only by keeping guns out the hand of most people,” Leon wrote before granting the preliminary injunction. (Emphasis in original.)
     Leon decided to pass on issuing the permanent injunction Grace and the Pink Pistols requested, leaving it open for the D.C. Circuit Court to examine.
     Pink Pistols praised Leon’s decision in a written statement Tuesday.
     “This clause was a travesty of justice from its inception,” said Gwendolyn Patton, first speaker of the Pink Pistols. “It left the free exercise of an inherent human right up to bureaucrats and police officials. If your reason to carry a gun was deemed insufficient — if, by their measure, your reason to carry a gun wasn’t good enough — they could deny you that right with the stroke of a pen and the thump of a rubber stamp. This was unacceptable to us.”
     The office of Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.

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