A federal judge on Tuesday granted a 90-day stay in a ruling that upended Washington, D.C.’s ban on carrying handguns in public, giving city officials time to consider whether they will appeal the case or concede and begin drafting gun carry laws.
The breathing room was a relief to local leaders who indicated they might craft legislation in response to the ruling, which deemed it unconstitutional to deny individuals the right to carry guns on city streets.
“The mayor plans to work with the council on formulating legislation to address the ruling,” said Doxie McCoy, spokeswoman for Mayor Vincent C. Gray. “He doesn’t want to wait to see if they will hear an appeal.”
The District’s attorney general hasn’t settled on a strategy and on Tuesday a spokesman declined to comment further. The stay will be in effect until Oct. 22.
But as city officials mull their options, experts on constitutional law and Second Amendment issues say they expect the District to appeal.
“Often in the Second Amendment area, lower courts strike laws down and appeals courts uphold the cases,” said Adam Winkler, a professor at the UCLA School of Law. “D.C. might be best served by appealing. The D.C. circuit court of appeals has upheld their gun control laws in the past.”
A liberal lean on the U.S. Court of Appeals D.C. Circuit might tempt lawyers for the city, which until the ruling had the most restrictive gun laws in the nation, to take their chances with an appeal, said Ken Klukowski, a professor at Liberty University’s School of Law.
“There is no downside to their doing so,” he said, noting that a stay would likely be in effect for the duration of the appeals process.
U.S. District Court Judge Frederick J. Scullin Jr. on Saturday issued the ruling in the five-year-old Palmer v. District of Columbia case — brought by four gun owners who challenged city gun laws.
More than 3,000 guns have been registered in the city since a 2008 Supreme Court ruling overturned the city’s near-total ban on gun ownership. Gun owners since then have only been allowed to keep their firearms in their homes or businesses. Individuals with gun carry permits from other states are also not allowed to carry firearms in the nation’s capital.
For a brief period, from the time the ruling was issued Saturday to Tuesday afternoon, the police department acknowledged that D.C. residents with legally registered handguns and individuals permitted to carry handguns in their home states could legally carry those firearms in the nation’s capital. It’s unclear to what extent the public took advantage of the fleeting opportunity.
Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier has since rescinded orders instructing officers not to make arrests in such cases.
“We must recognize that members of the public may not be aware that all firearms laws in the District are once again in effect,” she wrote in an updated order issued Tuesday. “Officers are reminded to handle all matters regarding firearms with caution.”
Though legal experts believe an appeal is in the city’s future, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said he wasn’t sure if it was the best long-term strategy.
“The issue of carry is very complicated,” he said. “If the prudent thing to do is to open up our carry laws then we’re confronted with a host of questions” that include “defining who would be disqualified and looking at whether there are events or areas where carry permits would not be allowed.”
With the stay in effect, the chairman said he doesn’t believe he’ll have to call the D.C. Council back from its current summer recess nor is he eager to rush into the process of drafting legislation.
“We need time. The court did the right thing in giving us time,” Mr. Mendelson said, adding that lawmakers learned from having to act on an emergency basis after the 2008 Supreme Court decision. “While it showed we were being responsive, we made mistakes.”