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Washington DC police will not enforce handgun ban

Published time: July 28, 2014 16:54
Reuters / Douglas Graham

Reuters / Douglas Graham

District of Columbia police officers were told Sunday to cease enforcing the city’s ban on carrying loaded handguns in public places. The guidance came shortly after a federal judge overturned the city’s gun-control law.

Yet the Washington, DC attorney general’s office said it is seeking a stay on the judge’s ruling while the city determines whether it will appeal the decision.

The order from DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier states that any District resident is permitted to carry a handgun in public if it is properly registered. Those without proper registration could be charged on that ground. The number of registered guns in the city is believed to be low, The Washington Post reported.

The police order also said residents from outside the city without a felony record would not be charged under the upended gun ban.

The DC attorney general’s office will “be seeking a stay shortly,” according to spokesman Ted Gest.

“Its time of effectiveness could be very short,” Gest said.

Though it’s often the case that all parties in a lawsuit can appeal a ruling, the Post reported that the decision took effect Sunday, prompting the city to adopt immediate compliance measures.

US District Judge Frederick Scullin ruled over the weekend that he was curbing enforcement of the city’s handgun ban “unless and until” the city implemented valid licensing methods.

“The decision is in effect, unless and until the court stays its decision,” said Alan Gura, lead attorney for the Second Amendment Foundation, the group challenging the law.

“This is now a decision that the city is required to follow — the idea that the city can prohibit absolutely the exercise of a constitutional right for all people at all times, that was struck down. That’s just not going to fly.”

Elected officials in the District criticized the ruling, mainly characterizing it as a threat to public safety. DC Mayor Vincent Gray said in a statement that he “remains committed to having reasonable gun safety measures in the District and will work with the [Office of the Attorney General] and D.C. police to ensure that our gun laws remain strong.”

DC Council member Muriel Bowser, who defeated Gray in the 2014 mayoral race’s Democratic primary, said she is committed to working on “any legislative action needed to protect our gun laws.” Fellow council member Mary Cheh said the District’s unique position as the seat of the federal government should be a factor in any decisions about legal firearms in the city.

“We’re just full of places where guns would be not only inappropriate but highly dangerous,” Cheh said.

The US Supreme Court struck down DC’s ban on the possession of handguns in the home in the 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller, under the basis that it violated the right to bear arms guaranteed by the US Constitution's Second Amendment. Yet DC’s elected leaders repealed the police chief’s authority to issue handgun-carry licenses shortly after the ruling, prompting a legal challenge.

“By requiring a permit to carry a handgun in public, yet refusing to issue such permits . . . defendants maintain a complete ban on the carrying of handguns in public by almost all individuals,” the complaint filed in 2009 said.

Judge Scullin, a senior US District Court judge temporarily working in the District opposed to his normal seat in the Northern District of New York, made the ruling in the case Palmer et al v. District of Columbia.

"There is no longer any basis on which this Court can conclude that the District of Columbia's total ban on the public carrying of ready-to-use handguns outside the home is constitutional under any level of scrutiny," Scullin wrote, striking down the city's 32-year ban on handguns.

"Therefore, the Court finds that the District of Columbia's complete ban on the carrying of handguns in public is unconstitutional," Scullin added in his 19-page decision.

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