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Court ruling on D.C. carry ban could have broad implications

Gun rights attorney Alan Gura racked up another victory for the Second Amendment Foundation Saturday.
Dave Workman

Today’s ruling by the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, as reported by attorney Alan Gura, that the city’s ban on carrying of handguns outside the home doesn’t stand up to constitutional muster “under any level of scrutiny” could have far-reaching implications.

Alan Gottlieb, founder and executive vice president of the Second Amendment Foundation, which funded the case of Palmer v. District of Columbia, said in a telephone conversation today that this ruling is important because it establishes that the right to bear arms applies outside the home. Anti-gunners have contended that the Heller and McDonald rulings only protect a right to bear arms in the home, a notion that the court in Moore v. Madigan — another SAF case in Illinois — “could not rationally have been limited to the home.” The ruling may be read here.

Does this mean that overnight, so-called “constitutional carry” — that is, carrying a handgun openly or concealed without a permit or license — will be the law of the land? Even attorney Alan Gura, who announced the ruling earlier today, notes on his blog: “Obviously, the carrying of handguns for self-defense can be regulated. Exactly how is a topic of severe and serious debate, and courts should enforce constitutional limitations on such regulation should the government opt to regulate. But totally banning a right literally spelled out in the Bill of Rights isn’t going to fly.”

The ruling refers to registration of handguns in the District for the purpose of carry outside the home for personal protection. Watch anti-gunners spin this to mean that registration should apply to anyone wanting to carry a sidearm beyond one’s doorstep anywhere, since this appears to be the district standard for having a handgun for self-defense. Watch for the city to appeal.

They might also argue that non-residents who will now seek a carry permit in the District may be expected to register their guns with the police there. The ruling notes on Page 3 that, “The parties do not dispute the basic facts that underlie this action. D.C. Code § 7-2402.01(a) provides that ‘no persons or organization in the District shall possess or control any firearm, unless the persons or organization holds a valid registration certificate for the firearm.”

On the other hand, the ruling may send a strong signal that prohibitive “discretionary issue” laws that allow authorities in various states, such as Maryland, New Jersey and New York, to essentially ban carry outside the home for personal protection by not issuing carry permits could be in trouble. The Supreme Court has declined to hear challenges to those laws in cases from all three states. Perhaps now that the high court has heard from the district court in its own front yard, that could change.

The ruling, by Senior Judge Frederick J. Scullin, Jr., also refers to several other SAF cases, which Gottlieb can justifiably be proud of. It also underscores SAF’s trademark statement that it is “Winning Firearms Freedom One Lawsuit at a Time.”

Gottlieb told Examiner that he will study the 19-page ruling this weekend and make a formal statement on Monday. Meanwhile, Gura’s announcement today has several pro-gun bloggers whooping it up.

It is a significant victory for SAF and gun rights. This case was first filed in 2009 and last October, SAF and Gura filed a petition for a writ of mandamus because of the length of time it languished in the District Court. Now, nearly ten months later, the plaintiffs finally have a ruling.

There is one other person who should be smiling. Emily Miller, author of “Emily Gets Her Gun” — which detailed her personal travails in getting a permit to keep a handgun in her home for self-defense — was not a plaintiff in this case. However, her story, revealed first in a series in the Washington Times, where she formerly worked as senior opinion page editor, and then in the book, showed what a mess the D.C. handgun regulations have become.

Miller, now the chief investigative reporter for the local Fox News affiliate, has been busy on Twitter with this breaking story. It’s not over until it’s over, of course, but for a lot of gun rights activists, today’s decision looks like we’re heading into the seventh inning.

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