- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 17, 2016

In a strike against the District’s strict firearms laws, a federal judge has blocked the city’s police chief from requiring gun owners to prove they have a “good reason” to obtain a concealed carry permit.

Tuesday’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Richard Leon revives the battle over gun rights in the nation’s capital by temporarily banning enforcement of a key portion of the city’s “may issue” laws, which have kept the number of concealed carry permits to a minimum.

“Because the right to bear arms includes the right to carry firearms for self-defense both in and outside the home, I find that the District’s ‘good reason’ requirement likely places an unconstitutional burden on this right,” Judge Leon wrote in a 46-page opinion that granted a preliminary injunction while the case plays out in court.

The lawsuit is at least the second to challenge concealed carry laws adopted by the District to comply with a federal judge’s 2014 ruling that overturned the city’s long-standing ban on the carrying of firearms in public.

Some states have sought to restrict concealed carry permits more than others. In Missouri, lawmakers last week approved a sweeping expansion that allows people to carry guns without obtaining permits.

Meanwhile, federal appeals courts have upheld restrictive “good reason” requirements similar to the District’s in New Jersey, New York and Maryland. A decision is pending from the full 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a “good reason” challenge in California.

The case in which Judge Leon issued his ruling Tuesday was brought last year by D.C. resident Matthew Grace and Pink Pistols. Mr. Grace is a member of the national organization, which advocates for members of the gay community to arm themselves for self-defense.

Mr. Grace, who legally owns four handguns, would like to be able to carry a firearm for self-defense, but the city last year denied a concealed carry permit, according to his lawsuit.

To meet the “good reason” requirement, the District previously required applicants to provide evidence that they were subject to “specific threats or previous attacks” or to show they had another “proper reason to carry a concealed pistol,” such as routinely carrying large amounts of cash or valuables as part of their work.

Since the city began issuing concealed carry permits, the Metropolitan Police Department has issued just 74, said Officer Sean Hickman, police spokesman.

Charles J. Cooper, an attorney for Mr. Grace, said his client was gratified by the ruling but not shocked by the differing opinions that judges in the District’s federal court have written on the law.

In March, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly denied a preliminary injunction in a different case that challenged the “good reason” requirement.

Judge Kollar-Kotelly noted that the city had identified a strong interest “in reducing risks posed to members of the public in the District of Columbia as a result of concealed weapons carried in public” and that the plaintiffs — two D.C. men and a Florida resident who were denied concealed carry permits — had not shown that a preliminary injunction would be in the public interest.

Before that, U.S. District Judge Frederick J. Scullin Jr. granted a preliminary injunction in the case. However, an appeals court vacated the ruling by Judge Scullin, who had been detailed from New York to hear cases in the District, after determining that he did not have the authority to rule on the case.

“I think the fact is that with the judges of the District Court, in a district as large as D.C.’s federal district bench, it’s not extraordinary that two judges will come to different conclusions about the constitutionality of the same law,” Mr. Cooper said.

Given differing opinions on the laws, local leaders plan to fight the ruling.
The District’s attorney general’s office plans to request a stay of Judge Leon’s decision while attorneys file an appeal, officials said in a statement.

“We continue to believe our ‘good reason’ requirement for a concealed-carry permit is both constitutional and in line with similar laws in New Jersey, New York and Maryland — all of which have been upheld by federal appeals courts,” said Attorney General Karl Racine.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson supports that course of action.

“This provision has been in the law since 1857 in the District and has withstood other constitutional challenges. The District should appeal this order, as it has done successfully in the past,” Mr. Mendelson said. “The regulations were painstakingly crafted to meet the requirements and the jurisprudence on this issue, and the unique public safety needs of the District.”

The District’s gun laws have come under siege by gun rights advocates at almost every turn since the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 struck down the city’s decades-old ban on handgun ownership in the case brought by special police officer Dick Heller.

In his own ruling, Judge Leon pointed to guidance he took from the landmark case.

“In Heller, the Supreme Court unequivocally asserted that ‘the enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table,’” Judge Leon wrote. “The District’s understandable, but overly zealous, desire to restrict the right to carry in public a firearm for self-defense to the smallest number of law-abiding, responsible citizens is exactly the type of policy choice the Justices had in mind.”

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