- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A panel of federal judges on Tuesday seemed skeptical of Washington, D.C.’s strict concealed carry laws, questioning the scenarios under which gun owners would be approved for carry permits and why they must justify a need for self-defense.

The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit heard oral arguments in two cases challenging the constitutionality of the concealed carry permit laws. The D.C. Council enacted the regulations after a federal court in 2014 overturned the city’s ban on the carrying of firearms in public.

D.C. law requires gun owners to prove they have a “good reason to fear injury” or another “proper reason,” such as a job that requires carrying large amounts of cash or valuables, in order to get a concealed carry permit.

Gun owners who were denied carry permits have challenged the laws, arguing that the restrictions violate the Second Amendment because they prohibit most law-abiding citizens from obtaining permits.

Under the city’s law, living in a high-crime neighborhood is not reason enough to justify approval of a concealed carry permit. That scenario seemed to capture the imaginations of Judges Thomas B. Griffith and Stephen F. Williams, who asked all of the questions posed Tuesday.

Although the plaintiffs in both cases are men, the judges returned repeatedly to a hypothetical in which a woman who lives alone in a neighborhood where several violent crimes have been committed.

“Are you saying there is no right under the Second Amendment to defend yourself against a first attack?” Judge Griffith asked a lawyer representing the city.

“It depends on the circumstances,” said Assistant Attorney General Holly Johnson, citing an English law from the 14th century that has been used in the past to limit firearms in populous areas.

“But not in the city? That is absurd,” Judge Griffith said.

The three-judge panel, which included Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson, is not ruling on the outcome of the lawsuits but on whether the city’s laws can remain in place while cases are heard. All three judges were nominated by Republican presidents.

Judge Williams questioned what might be considered “the minimum showing to get a permit.”

Ms. Johnson quoted the D.C. law, saying it must be a threat of fear beyond that experienced by the general public.

“What if the D.C. regulation defined ‘good reason’ in a way that you would get the license if you lived in a dangerous neighborhood?” Judge Williams said.

“That would still be irrational,” said Alan Gura, a lawyer representing one of the cases brought by gun owner Brian Wrenn. “We don’t know when danger might arise. … The fact is that the Second Amendment is not limited to bad neighborhoods.”

Similar laws limiting concealed carry in Maryland, New Jersey, New York and California have survived legal challenges in other federal appeals courts.

But in the District, lower-court judges who heard the two D.C. lawsuits have come to different conclusions about the legality of the “good reason” requirement.

In March, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly denied a preliminary injunction in a case brought by Mr. Wrenn and two others that challenged the “good reason” requirement.

Yet U.S. District Judge Richard Leon in May ruled in a case brought by Matthew Grace that the District’s concealed carry laws were likely an “unconstitutional burden.” His ruling blocked the city from enforcing the laws as the case progressed, but an appeals court panel stepped in to stay the decision.

The lawsuits are the latest in a series of battles over gun rights in the District that have played out in court since the Supreme Court in 2008 overturned the city’s ban on gun ownership. Since then, almost every aspect of the District’s gun laws have come under legal scrutiny from gun rights activists.

The Metropolitan Police Department, which handles the approval of concealed carry applications, reported Friday that 89 permits have been approved to date and 374 permits have been denied.

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