Judge rules Washington D.C. handgun ban is unconstitutional

A federal judge released a decision Saturday that the Washington D.C. ban on carrying handguns outside the home is unconstitutional. Effectively immediately, registered D.C. gun owners may carry a firearm in public.

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Guns line the walls of the firearms reference collection at the Washington Metropolitan Police Department headquarters in Washington in 2007. A federal judge has ruled that the District of Columbia ban on carrying handguns is unconstitutional.

Washington D.C. residents can now legally carry handguns in the streets of the District, according to a federal judge.

In his ruling released Saturday, Judge Frederick Scullin Jr. wrote that the current D.C. ban on carrying handguns outside the home was "unconstitutional."

Second Amendment advocates now have another legal victory. And both Washington D.C. and Chicago have lost another round in their decades-old legal battles to ban guns from their cities.  In January, a federal judge overturned Chicago's laws banning retail gun shops and private firearm sales within the city limits.  Chicago officials had argued that firearm sales contributed to high crime rates in the city. But the judge in the case disagreed, saying “the evidence does not support that the complete ban sufficiently furthers the purposes [of crime control] the ordinance tries to serve.”

In the Washington D.C. case (Palmer v. District of Columbia), the Second Amendment Foundation filed a lawsuit five years ago on behalf of several D.C. gun owners. They argued that while the District has ordinances which required that handgun owners have a permit to own and carry a gun in public, the city refused to actually issue any permits.  And that policy was a violation of the Second Amendment of the US Constitution.

Judge Scullin agreed, citing previous US Supreme Court decisions:

"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.

The judge went on to rule that until the District had "a licensing mechanism consistent with constitutional standards enabling people to exercise their
Second Amendment right to bear arms," the permitted gun owners could carry firearms outside the home.

In a 2008 landmark constitutional ruling, the US Supreme Court struck down a 32-year ban on private possession of handguns in the District of Columbia. In Heller vs. District of Columbia, the court also ruled that two other gun-control measures – requiring that rifles and shotguns be kept disassembled or secured with a trigger lock at all times – were invalid.

As The Christian Science Monitor reported at the time, the nation's highest court has "declared 5 to 4 that the Second Amendment's guarantee of a right to "keep and bear arms" means that the government cannot enact an outright ban on certain commonly held weapons or otherwise prevent citizens from having a gun at home for personal protection or other lawful uses."

And The Monitor reported in 2010, the Supreme Court heard two Chicago-related cases – McDonald v. Chicago and NRA v. Chicago – that resulted in the court reaffirming that the Second Amendment has to apply in each state. Then in 2012, the US Court of Appeals found the city’s gun-range ban unconstitutional.

In the latest D.C. ruling, Alan Gura, the lead attorney for the Second Amendment Foundation, told Fox News: “We won.  I’m very pleased with the decision that the city can’t forbid the exercise of a fundamental constitutional right."

The Washington Times reported Sunday that District’s attorney general’s office was “studying the ruling and considering our options,” spokesman Ted Gest said. In the meantime, city attorneys will seek to block the ruling from taking immediate effect.

“The District of Columbia will seek a stay of the judge’s order regarding the D.C. gun-carrying law pending a potential appeal,” Mr. Gest said in a statement.

Expecting the appeal, Mr. Gura said: “We’ll be happy to keep the fight going," said Mr. Gura.

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