Over the weekend, a rather important decision regarding gun rights was handed down in the Palmer v. DC case: the District of Columbia’s ordinance that prevents law-abiding citizens from carrying their firearms outside of their homes is unconstitutional. It’s a decision that’s been pending for five years – and it applies to both open and concealed carry.
In the decision written by Judge Frederick Scullin of the New York District Court for the Northern District of New York, he said:
In light of Heller, McDonald, and their progeny, there is no longer any basis on which this Court can conclude that the District of Columbia’s total ban on the public carrying of ready- to-use handguns outside the home is constitutional under any level of scrutiny. Therefore, the Court finds that the District of Columbia’s complete ban on the carrying of handguns in public is unconstitutional.
Accordingly, the Court grants Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and enjoins Defendants from enforcing the home limitations of D.C. Code § 7-2502.02(a)(4) and enforcing D.C. Code § 22-4504(a) unless and until such time as the District of Columbia adopts a licensing mechanism consistent with constitutional standards enabling people to exercise their Second Amendment right to bear arms.4 Furthermore, this injunction prohibits the District from completely banning the carrying of handguns in public for self-defense by otherwise qualified non-residents based solely on the fact that they are not residents of the District.
The 2008 Heller decision struck down DC’s handgun ban as unconstitutional, affirmed that the Second Amendment is an individual right; and that it applies to the residents living in our capital city. It also neutralized the anti-gun talking point regarding using the “well-regulated militia” to justify gun control policies:
The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.
The 2010 McDonald decision extended parts of Heller to the states, specifically the right to own a gun in the home.
This is a rather huge victory for Second Amendment supporters. Gun owners can essentially carry their firearms in DC, a place where exercising such a right was verboten for decades.
Although, it seems the city’s 10-round magazine restriction is still in effect. Nevertheless, the city is rushing for a stay in the Palmer decision to prevent hordes of gun-toting tourists from shooting up the city. But DC’s police chief, Cathy L. Lanier, instructed her officers to not arrest anyone carrying handguns on the street (via Washington Post):
D.C. police were told Sunday not to arrest people for carrying handguns on the street in the wake of a judge’s ruling that overturned the city’s principal gun-control law.
However, the D.C. attorney general’s office said it would seek a stay of the ruling while the city decides whether to appeal.
In an order approved by Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier, police were told that District residents are permitted to carry pistols if the weapons are registered. Those who had not registered their handguns could be charged on that ground, the instruction said.
Meanwhile, Ted Gest, the spokesman for the D.C. attorney general’s office, which defended the handgun ban in court, said it will “be seeking a stay shortly,” so the order by U.S. District Judge Frederick J. Scullin Jr. may not be in effect for long.
“Its time of effectiveness could be very short,” Gest said.
Legal experts have said that in many cases all parties in a lawsuit are given the opportunity to appeal a ruling before it takes effect. However, it was decided at some point Sunday that Scullin’s ruling took immediate effect, and that set off efforts to bring the city into compliance.
Scullin, a senior U.S. District Court judge who normally sits in the Northern District of New York, wrote in his ruling that he was stopping enforcement of the law “unless and until” the city adopted a constitutionally valid licensing mechanism.
So, what about reciprocity of concealed carry permit holders? The ruling was applicable to them. DC’s Fox5 News’ investigative reporter Emily Miller, formerly of the Washington Times, reported yesterday that concealed carry permit holders from other states would be honored in DC.
STUNNING DEVELOPMENT: DC Police Chief Lanier just told force not to arrest a person who can legally carry a gun in DC or any state.
— Emily Miller (@EmilyMiller) July 28, 2014
More — DC police chief using guidance from AG — grants full reciprocity for all open and concealed carry from others states. — Emily Miller (@EmilyMiller) July 28, 2014
Only gun arrests now in DC can be DC residents with unregistered guns and non-residents who are prohibited under federal laws.
— Emily Miller (@EmilyMiller) July 28, 2014
Nevertheless, before law-abiding gun owners enter DC, there are a lot of questions that need answering. What buildings and areas prohibit concealed carry in DC? Is concealed carry permitted in bars if one does not imbibe? Are hollow points legal? If a gust of wind blows a gun owner’s jacket open that reveals a firearm, is that cause for arrest for failing to conceal? It’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Last year, Texas passed SB 299 to address this issue of failure to conceal a firearm for permit holders in the state.
And what about Vermont residents? A sea of anti-gun legislatures surrounds the state, but it has great gun laws, most notably you don’t need a permit to conceal carry.
Luckily, Dave Kopel, a pro-Second Amendment attorney, addressed some of these issues, which included him saying that it probably isn’t wise to open-carry your AR-15 into DC since the ruling only applied to handguns. He also noted that he couldn’t find a copy of Chief Lanier’s notice to DC Police regarding the Palmer decision, which persons carrying in the city should have on them just in case. I’m not a lawyer, but that seems to be just plain common sense until statues become more clearly defined.
Nevertheless, I wish law-abiding gun owners who choose to carry in DC safe travels.
UPDATE: Courtesy of Stephen Gutowski of the Capitol City Project, here’s the order Chief Lanier issued to DC Police following the Palmer decision. It addressed questions raised about Vermont gun owners and Virginia residents, where you don’t need a permit to open carry.