WASHINGTON — A federal judge has ruled that a key provision of the District of Columbia’s new gun law is likely unconstitutional, ordering Washington police to stop requiring individuals to show “good reason” to obtain a permit to carry a firearm on the streets of the nation’s capital.
In imposing a preliminary injunction pending further litigation, US District Judge Richard Leon reignited a running battle over the Second Amendment in the District and its courts where three different judges have now weighed in with varying conclusions.
“The enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table,” Leon wrote in a 46-page opinion, quoting a 5-to-4 US Supreme Court decision in 2008 in another District of Columbia case that established a constitutional right to keep firearms in one’s home.
Leon said that the right applies both inside and outside the home.
“The District’s understandable, but overzealous, desire to restrict the right to carry in public a firearm for self-defense to the smallest possible number of law-abiding, responsible citizens is exactly the type of policy choice the Justices had in mind,” he wrote.
The law gives police discretion to grant licenses to applicants who show “good reason to fear injury” or “any other proper reason for carrying a pistol,” such as having a job transporting cash or other valuables.
The city’s law, among the strictest in the nation, matches those in Maryland, New Jersey, and New York that have been upheld by federal appeals courts elsewhere.
Leon’s ruling came in a lawsuit filed last year by a Washington gun-owner, Matthew Grace, and gun-rights group Pink Pistols. The plaintiffs alleged that the D.C. gun law violates the core Second Amendment right to bear arms for self-defense, including protecting themselves from nonspecific threats and threats that arise unexpectedly.
David Thompson, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said Leon got it right in finding that the Constitution includes a right to carry firearms. “The District of Columbia cannot parcel out constitutional rights to a select few of its choosing,” Thompson said. “That’s not how the Constitution works in this country.”
The D.C. police department referred questions about Tuesday’s ruling to the office of Attorney General Karl Racine. Robert Marus, a spokesman for the attorney general, said the office is reviewing the ruling.
He called the “good reason” restriction a “reasonable requirement to protect public safety in an urban environment like the District of Columbia.”
The District approved its new concealed-carry permitting system in September 2014, after its longstanding ban on carrying firearms in public was overturned that July by US District Judge Frederick Scullin, a federal judge on assignment to the District from New York.
The case was reassigned to US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly. She ruled in favor of the city in March, finding that gun-rights advocates had not shown that the licensing scheme is likely unconstitutional or that a preliminary injunction would be in the public interest.
Kollar-Kotelly noted the city’s strong interest “in reducing risks posed to members of the public in the District of Columbia as a result of concealed weapons carried in public.” She also pointed to consistent rulings by three other federal appellate courts that have upheld “good reason” requirements.
Plaintiffs in that case have appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.