A federal judge is weighing a request to hold the District in contempt of court for enacting new gun laws that are so restrictive as to be out of compliance with his order to allow for firearms to be carried publicly in the city.
During a hearing Thursday, U.S. District Judge Frederick J. Scullin Jr. asked the city and the plaintiffs fighting the regulations for additional filings on whether the city should be considered in contempt of his order that officials develop a licensing scheme “consistent with constitutional standards enabling people to exercise their Second Amendment right to bear arms.”
Attorney Alan Gura, who is representing four gun owners in the 2009 Palmer v. District case, argued that, despite passing new laws that allow for concealed carry, the District has not lived up to its court-ordered obligation because the plaintiffs he is representing are still unable to obtain gun-carry permits under the city’s strict regulations.
“There is no way in the world my clients can obtain a license to carry a gun,” Mr. Gura said in court Thursday, noting that they are unable to prove they are under a specific threat as required by the regulations.
Judge Scullin overturned the city’s ban on carrying of firearms in public in July. The judge, who normally works out of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, took the case amid a backlog in the District after the judge to whom it was originally assigned retired.
The D.C. Council adopted emergency legislation in response to the ruling in September that outlined new regulations for obtaining a concealed carry permit — including 18 hours of firearms training and the requirement that applicants demonstrate a special need for self-protection.
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Judge Scullin asked the lawyers for the District on Thursday whether they had any statistics to show that restricting gun-carry to only people who can demonstrate a special need would enhance public safety.
Assistant Attorney General Andrew Saindon said he did not have any such statistics. He argued that, by establishing a licensing scheme, the city was complying with the judge’s orders.
The District has appealed the ruling and said any challenge to the recently passed regulations should be made through a separate lawsuit, but Judge Scullin indicated he retains the right to determine whether the new laws are compliant with his previous ruling.
The District is required to submit additional arguments to the court by Dec. 4 and Mr. Gura is required to respond by Dec. 11.
In the meantime, gun owners’ progress in obtaining concealed carry permits has been slow moving. Although gun owners were able to begin the application process Oct. 22, no permits have been issued, according to Metropolitan Police Department spokesman Lt. Sean Conboy.
Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier has 90 days to determine whether an application should be approved, at which point applicants are required to take firearms training. However, the department has yet to approve any instructors to teach the required course, Lt. Conboy said.
Gun owners who have their permit applications denied are able to appeal to a review board. Mayor Vincent C. Gray is set to swear in the five-member board on Friday. Members of the board are Nicole Johnson, forensic services medical director with the District’s Department of Behavioral Health; Gary Abrecht, retired chief of the United States Capitol Police; Laura Ingersoll, a retired assistant U.S. Attorney; Sylvia Bacon, a retired D.C. Superior Court judge; and Alicia Washington, assistant deputy attorney general for the District.