- - Monday, September 29, 2014


The District of Columbia is too clever by half. When a federal judge ordered the city to recognize the right of residents and nonresidents to carry guns for self-defense, the city channeled Rube Goldberg, the cartoonist who drew those convoluted designs to make the easy look difficult.

Under the scheme approved by the D.C. Council, those who receive a permit to carry a handgun must be endowed with clairvoyance to avoid winding up in jail. The new ordinance makes it a crime to be within 1,000 feet of “a dignitary or high-ranking official of the United States or a state, local, or foreign government.” The alderpersons obviously think there are enough “dignitaries” on the street to render the judge’s ruling unenforceable.

Get too close to the mayor, and his protective detail will arrest you. The ordinance does limit the power of jailing permit holders by saying that they must be given “notice” that someone very important is passing by. This will be similar to the “notice” the city gives of the revenue speed cameras that the city had hidden behind a bridge or a bush with a tiny “photo enforced” sign somewhere in the vicinity.

To avoid a penalty, someone carrying a gun near a “high-ranking official” must immediately walk to his car to secure the weapon in a manner approved by Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier. While walking, he has to be careful not to approach within 1,000 feet of a “demonstration,” definition not clear, or he’ll be arrested.

The ordinance says a demonstration can be a single person standing on a street corner “engaging in any other similar conduct that involves the communication or expression of views or grievances” on just about anything that could attract a crowd of onlookers — unless the onlookers are “visitors or tourists,” who don’t count. Permit holders must ask for identification before approaching anyone.

The convoluted system isn’t actually intended to solve a problem because the city is determined never to issue a permit to anyone. The ordinance gives Chief Lanier the discretion to decide who has a “need” to carry a gun. As in Maryland now, such permits will be issued only in the rarest of circumstances to the friends of politicians and celebrities. A single mom who works the night shift at McDonald’s in a rough part of town is out of luck.

In July, U.S. District Judge Frederick J. Scullin Jr. ordered the city to come up with a licensing mechanism “consistent with constitutional standards enabling people to exercise their Second Amendment right to bear arms.” The District has responded in bad faith with a licensing scheme so over the top that it expresses the city’s contempt for Judge Scullin’s court.

Replacing a ban on concealed carry with a de facto ban may not pass muster with the judge, who had in mind a system of rules that would keep “children, felons, illegal aliens [and] lunatics” from carrying handguns.

The District’s permit scheme is reminiscent of the Jim Crow-era poll-tax laws that were intended to prevent prospective black voters and poor whites from exercising their right to vote. The newly enacted concealed-carry system enables only the privileged few to defend themselves, denying the poor and disadvantaged their constitutionally guaranteed right to self-defense. Judge Scullin will surely recognize this contempt of his court.

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