July 31, 2017
In a major development in the ongoing effort to restore the Second Amendment in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued an opinion on Tuesday that would effectively require D.C. officials to make concealed carry licenses available on a “shall-issue” basis.
The court’s decision comes in the combined cases of Wrenn v. D.C. and Grace v. D.C.
Following the landmark case of District of Columbia v. Heller, which recognized a Second Amendment right to have operable handguns in the home for self-defense, the District retaliated by banning carrying of firearms outside the home.
A lower federal court found D.C.’s carry ban also violated the Second Amendment, but rather than comply with that ruling, D.C. created a sham system for concealed carry permits that requires applicants to show a “good” or “proper” reason for needing to carry a concealed handgun. This includes a “special need for self-protection distinguishable from the general community,” job duties requiring the transport of large amounts of cash or valuables, or the need to protect a close relative who cannot provide for his or her own special self-defense needs. Practically speaking, this means the vast majority of law-abiding people who simply want to carry a handgun for self-dense in ordinary circumstances are automatically disqualified.
Licensed concealed carry, moreover, is the only option for ordinary people to lawfully carry a loaded, accessible firearm for self-defense outside the person’s home or business in D.C., so in effect the ban on carry already found unconstitutional remains.
Wrenn and Grace therefore presented the appellate court with the questions of whether the Second Amendment’s right to “bear” arms for self-defense extends beyond the home and, if so, whether District officials could nevertheless deny that right to all but a select, hand-picked few. The court’s answer to those questions was a resounding “yes” and “no,” respectively.
The D.C. Circuit analogized the District’s current concealed carry licensing regime to the ban on keeping handguns at issue in Heller. The issue, the court stated, is not whether a few select people could exercise the right but whether it was available to responsible, law-abiding people in ordinary circumstances.Because the court found that D.C.’s “good” or “proper” reason requirement was effectively a ban on bearing arms by people entitled to Second Amendment protection, it declared the requirement invalid and barred its enforcement.
The upshot of this decision is that D.C. must now issue concealed carry licenses to all otherwise eligible applicants, i.e., those who pass the District’s background check and training requirements and pay the applicable fees. Unfortunately, the court’s order is effectively on hold while District officials determine their next legal move. That could mean asking for a rehearing before the full D.C. Circuit or appealing directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.