The District’s ban on carrying handguns in public was struck down by a federal judge who called the restrictions “unconstitutional.”
The decision by Judge Frederick J. Scullin Jr. comes five years after several gun owners joined together to file a lawsuit challenging the District’s gun laws, which only allowed residents to possess a gun in their home or business.
In light of Supreme Court decisions that struck down near total bans on handguns in the District and Chicago in recent years, “there is no longer any basis 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,” Judge Scullin wrote in an opinion dated Thursday and made public Saturday.
The city has the right to appeal the decision, and a spokesman for the Office of the Attorney General said his office is “studying the ruling and considering our options.”
The lawsuit, Palmer vs. District of Columbia, was brought by the Second Amendment Foundation and four gun owners and argued that the District’s “laws, customs, practices and policies generally banning the carrying of handguns in public violate the Second Amendment” of the U.S. Constitution.
The three D.C. residents who are part of the lawsuit, are licensed gun owners in the District who each had gun-registration applications rejected by the Metropolitan Police Department because they stated their intention was to carry the loaded guns on their person outside their homes. A fourth plantiff in the case is a New Hampshire resident who was charged with illegally carrying a gun in the District after he was stopped for speeding. He later sought a permit to allow him to legally carry his handgun when he traveled through the city, but had his application rejected by the Metropolitan Police Department, which handles gun licensing.
“With this decision in Palmer, the nation’s last explicit ban of the right to bear arms has bitten the dust,” attorney Alan Gura, who represented the gun owners in this case and scores of others in gun rights cases across the country, wrote on his blog in response to the decision. “Obviously, the carrying of handguns for self-defense can be regulated. … But totally banning a right literally spelled out in the Bill of Rights isn’t going to fly.”
The lawsuit was filed in 2009, a year after the Supreme Court struck down the District’s 30-year-old ban on handgun ownership in the landmark District of Columbia vs. Heller case. However the case stretched on in part because the judge who initially heard the Palmer case retired and it had to be reassigned to Judge Scullin, who heard a second round of arguments in 2012.
Plantiffs in the case were ecstatic over the ruling.
“It feels good to win. The court affirmed that the Constitution does apply to D.C. and I do have constitutional rights even though I’m a D.C. resident,” said Amy McVey, a Northwest resident and plaintiff in the case who was the first person to register a handgun in 2008 after the city’s ban was lifted.