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Washington, DC ban on carrying handguns again in effect, being enforced by police

Published time: July 29, 2014 21:41
Reuters / Joshua Roberts

Reuters / Joshua Roberts

The ongoing saga of the constitutionality and enforceability of Washington, DC’s handgun ban added yet another new chapter today, as the federal judge who ruled it unconstitutional issued a stay. The police chief also told officers to renew enforcing it.

In a landmark gun control case, Frederick Scullin, a federal judge in the District, overturned the city’s total ban on carrying handguns outside the home on Saturday, calling it unconstitutional.

"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," Judge Scullin said.

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

Following his ruling, Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier on Sunday directed her officers to cease enforcing the ban for any District resident carrying a properly registered handgun in public. The police order also said residents from outside the city without a felony record would not be charged under the upended gun ban.

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.

On Monday, DC Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan requested a stay. Scullin issued a 90-day reprieval of his ruling on Tuesday, after receiving agreement from the plaintiffs in Palmer et al v. District of Columbia.

The city council now must either file an appeal or craft new legislation “consistent with the Court's ruling,” Scullin wrote Tuesday, in their attempt to curtail residents’ and visitors’ abilities to carry handguns in public.

Also on Tuesday, Lanier directed her officers to once again enforce the ban on carrying handguns outside the home, according to WUSA.

The case began in 2009, after 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.

Although federal police officers often used the DC law to arrest people who carried handguns on the US Capitol campus, including congressional office buildings and the surround grounds, Capitol Police said they had other authority to charge violators, Politico reported. Another law bans entering other types of federal buildings with a weapon, but can only be enforced if a conspicuous sign at each building entrance makes the legal ban clear or if the person entering can be proven to know about the law.

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