Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
December 18, 2014

In D.C., Response to Judge’s Handgun Ruling Is Mixed and Muddled (Updated)

Updated 6:01 p.m. | For all practical purposes, a federal judge’s weekend ruling that overturned local laws prohibiting District of Columbia residents from carrying guns outside of their homes has opened the door for non-residents to tote handguns into the city and has made it potentially easier for members and staffers to transport firearms across the District to the Capitol.

D.C. police have been ordered not to arrest people for carrying pistols and deadly weapons in public. Washingtonians can still face criminal charges for carrying unregistered firearms and ammunition, but the millions of people who visit the nation’s capital are exempt from those provisions under an order from Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier. The chief’s guidance effectively put the District’s firearm regulations, at least for non-residents, on a par with the most permissive gun jurisdictions in the country. D.C. police got additional guidance from Lanier on Monday afternoon. She clarified that the ruling applies only to handguns, not long guns or shotguns that are still illegal, and that committing crimes with handguns remains illegal.

For non-residents, legal possession of a handgun in D.C. is based on the laws of their home jurisdiction, meaning D.C. police will be responsible for knowing and enforcing licensing and permitting restrictions from around the country. Lanier noted that additional information on gun laws in other states will be forthcoming and said that in the meantime, officers can call a 24-hour information line.

Lanier’s orders came in response to Judge Frederick Scullin Jr.’s July 26 ruling in Palmer v. District of Columbia that D.C.’s complete ban on the carrying of handguns in public is unconstitutional. In the 19-page decision, Scullin wrote that he was stopping enforcement of the law “unless and until” the city adopted a constitutionally valid licensing mechanism.

In her follow-up guidance to officers, Lanier nodded to the confusion. “Unfortunately, this ruling has left many unanswered legal questions that are currently being reviewed by the [Office of the Attorney General],” she stated.

Federal laws and a portion of D.C. code still prohibit people from carrying weapons on Capitol grounds, according to Capitol Police spokeswoman Lt. Kimberly Schneider. But members and staffers already have weapons privileges for the Capitol campus dating back decades. 

Although the D.C. prohibition against firearms was put into place in 1975, members of Congress and their staffs have the legal right to bear arms on the Hill. Capitol Police Board regulations established in 1967 permit members and their aides to transport licensed firearms on the Capitol grounds in the course of carrying out their official duties, provided the weapons are “unloaded and securely wrapped.”

Although the regulations expressly prohibit weapons on the floor of either chamber, as well as in the adjacent lobbies, cloakrooms and galleries, individual members  can “maintain firearms within the confines of [their] office.”

Before Lanier issued her order on Sunday, members and aides might have had to violate District law to transport a handgun to the Hill.

“Easing gun restrictions in the District of Columbia whether by court ruling or by regulation, certainly eases the way weapons are transported through the District,” said a former high-ranking Capitol Hill law enforcement official who spoke on background about the potential impact of the law.

On Monday afternoon, D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan filed a motion to stay the effectiveness of the opinion.

Alan Gura, the lawyer who argued against D.C.’s gun law on behalf of the nonprofit Second Amendment Foundation, said the case had nothing to do with the Hill, but he expects members of Congress will be playing close attention to the outcome.

“As part-time residents of the District of Columbia,” Gura told CQ Roll Call, members can now enjoy “a greater measure of freedom in their lives,” thanks to the ruling.

The Supreme Court’s 5-4 District of Columbia v. Heller decision made clear that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to gun ownership within the home. It also recognized that guns may be banned or controlled in certain “sensitive places,” including schools and government buildings.

Gura thinks a legal challenge to the federal and local laws prohibiting people from carrying guns on the Capitol grounds would be “far-fetched” under the Heller precedent and said it wasn’t a case he would argue.

Republicans in Congress have tried to overturn the city’s gun laws, to the outrage of locally elected officials.

D.C. Councilmember David Catania, a mayoral candidate running as an independent, said in a statement that strong gun control laws are critical to the District’s public safety, “a fact supported by the ban on possessing guns in federal buildings, on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, and Congressional office buildings.”

“Having more guns on our streets does not make us safer and a rushed roll back of our laws will only result in confusion and create additional challenges for law enforcement in the District,” he said. “Once again, the democratic will of District residents and their elected leadership is being marginalized and threatened by those who know little about our city and the nearly 650,000 people who call it home.”

Democratic mayoral nominee Muriel Bowser, who represents Ward 4 on the D.C. Council, said the ruling was “troubling and poses a serious threat to public safety in the District of Columbia” and vowed to fight for gun safety legislation.

In the wake of the ruling, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., chided Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., for his attempt to roll back gun laws in the District.

“With two people arrested in the last two weeks for bringing guns into the Capitol complex, both of whom were charged under D.C.’s carry law, Representative Massie can no longer hide behind that D.C. law,” she said in a statement. “The only thing standing between guns and the Capitol now is a federal law. Will Rep. Massie be consistent and finally try to overturn a law he has legitimate, direct jurisdiction over?”

Norton said she expects the District to appeal the decision, which goes beyond what the Supreme Court has held. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has upheld the constitutionality of three of the District’s four major gun laws, she pointed out.

Massie told CQ Roll Call he was encouraged by the judge’s decision.

“In fact, his ruling strikes down a provision of the DC Firearms Registration Amendment Act of 2008, which I specifically referenced in the text of my successful amendment on July 16th,” Massie said in an email. “Clearly, Ms. Norton and the Mayor missed the mark when they asserted that my legislative effort to restore a fundamental human right was an overextension of congressional authority.”

He cited Article I, Section 8, Clause 17 of the Constitution as evidence of authority over D.C.’s legislative matters, and said the ruling “re-affirmed my assertion that the peoples’ right to keep and bear arms cannot be denied by any locality or state.”

  • CaliforniaRightToCarry

    You failed to mention that Alan Gura has agreed to an immediate 90 day stay to give the District time to write a new law. If Gura has his way, the new law would ban the Open Carry of handguns and require that one have a government issued permission slip to carry a handgun concealed.

    • akatsukami

      Lies.

      • CrassyKnoll

        Not just lies but silly lies, no plaintiff is granted that sort of right, a stay would be entirely up to the courts.

        • CaliforniaRightToCarry

          And yet the court today granted the 90 day stay Gura agreed to in order to give the District time to write a new law.

      • CaliforniaRightToCarry

        And yet the court today granted the 90 day stay Gura agreed to.

    • Old Jarhead

      Gura has little to no say in that. I read that the DC .gov asked for a 180 day delay to draft a license scheme, and Judge Scullin instructed them to quit enforcing current law. I expect an appeal shortly by DC .gov, and expect them to lose at the Supreme Court, though it could take years to get before the Court.

      • CaliforniaRightToCarry

        Unless you are reading the briefs straight from the Federal docket and have the intelligence to understand what you are reading then what you’ve “read” is meaningless.

        Today, the court granted the 90 day stay Gura agreed to. Given that this is a SAF funded case and both the NRA and SAF opposes Open Carry by the time this case gets to SCOTUS it will be a pure concealed carry case because the first thing Gura is going to tell the lawyers for DC is that Open Carry should be banned.

        • Old Jarhead

          The 90day stay, according to the story I read, said the plaintiffs agreed to the stay. Gura was counsel for plaintiffs, not a plaintiff.
          It is interesting that you seem to know exactly what Gura plans. How do you come by this information?

          • CaliforniaRightToCarry

            Because I know Gura and I know his master Alan Gottlieb who is funding the Palmer case. I have read every brief Gura has ever filed in a Second Amendment case, most of which were funded by Gottlieb (of the Second Amendment Foundation). Gottlieb himself briefly carpet bombed my Facebook page earlier this year attacking Open Carry.

            Concealed carry is of no use to me, I don’t carry a purse.

            “[A] right to carry arms openly: “This is the right guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States, and which is calculated to incite men to a manly and noble defence of themselves, if necessary, and of their country, without any tendency to secret advantages and unmanly assassinations.”" District of Columbia v. Heller, 128 S. Ct. 2783 – Supreme Court (2008) at 2809.

            “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose. For example, the majority of the 19th-century courts to consider the question held that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment or state analogues.” District of Columbia v. Heller, 128 S. Ct. 2783 – Supreme Court (2008) at 2816.

            “We therefore hold that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Second Amendment right recognized in Heller.” McDonald v. City of Chicago, Ill., 130 S. Ct. 3020 – Supreme Court (2010) at 3050.

            “[T]he right of the people to keep and bear arms (art. 2) is not infringed by laws prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons…” Robertson v. Baldwin, 165 US 275 – Supreme Court (1897) at 282

            Charles Nichols – President of California Right To Carry

            http://CaliforniaRightToCarry.org

          • Old Jarhead

            Thank you for the response. There isn’t a thing there I can argue with. I too wish I could open carry, but, alas, Texas does not allow such carry of handguns. We appear to be in agreement, but it is often very difficult in these forums to tell if a poster is serious, or is trolling. I now know you are serious, and will in the future give your comments more credence. Keep up the good fight.
            P.S. Heller, IMO, while there were some very good points addressed by the court, was too weak a statement concerning the rights recognized by the 2A, and for that matter, the Bill of Rights. The entire document was ALWAYS intended as a limitation on the power of the feds. The Court should have demanded that DC immediately cease all registration and licensing for simple possession. But it seems that politics got in the way–again and again. And again.

          • CaliforniaRightToCarry

            You’re welcome. Sadly, too few people know how to even locate a brief filed in one of these Second Amendment cases brought by the so called gun-rights groups let alone to understand them.

            If they did, they would know that the NRA and the SAF are the two largest gun-control organizations in the country.

  • YONATAN C

    Senator Boehner has been a huge disappointment and a source of so many problems in the senate. He has single handedly caused the misery of more than three million unemployed families still without an unemployment extension since late last December. While these families waited patiently for an extension bill to be passed, the senator worked feverously to kill the bill by delaying the vote until it became almost impossible to pass. Instead of fighting for the unemployed, Mr.. Boehner fought for the Koch Brothers Oil pipeline bill to be passed. Clearly, the republican party represents the wealthy, and powerful in our country, not the common man. There are Still three million unemployed families in financial ruin due to the republican party’s total failure to help these needy families. They are without conscience and compassion. The republicans have failed America

    • http://google.com SaraB55

      the Koch Brothers Oil pipeline

      That is so far beyond stupid, it is out of sight.

      • CrassyKnoll

        Unlike Warren Buffet oil carrying railroad cars, or Warren Buffet oil spilling rail car disasters.

    • John Stephens

      Flagged for irrelevancy.

    • mp533

      Senator Boehner? No further comment necessary.

    • Old Jarhead

      Uhmm, you mean “Speaker of the House” {Senator} Boehner? Public schools, or just not paying attention?

  • http://google.com SaraB55

    It’s about time! But just you watch: DC government will have to be dragged kicking and screaming to respect people’s rights under the Second Amendment.

    • Old Jarhead

      I am very much expecting the DC .gov to appeal to the Supreme Court. There is a possibility that the Court was waiting for this particular case to be presented, and that would explain why they turned down the IL and NJ CHL cases. I hope they finally put the anti-gun argument to rest, and also give the DC .gov strict instructions as to what would be acceptable for licensing. Expect the DC .gov to set up a system so convoluted, only the very few who have the thousands of $ they will require will ever be licensed, which the Court could quash before the .gov starts their deliberations on avoiding the Appeals Court’s decision.

  • akatsukami

    She clarified [...] that committing crimes with
    handguns remains illegal.

    How stupid must progressives be that they need to be told this?

    • CrassyKnoll

      Apparently as stupid as required. And not just progressives, but specifically the city’s top cop thinks it needs to be spelled out to city cops.

      In other news, water remains wet, and progressive government remains a disaster zone..

    • John Stephens

      Now THERE’S a hole with no bottom!

  • CrassyKnoll

    Licensed concealed carry has become the majority standard across the country. Where law abiding citizens go armed crime goes down. This is not an assertion, but observable fact.

    Yet the local politicians of DC don’t seem to be aware of what is going on in the rest of the nation.

    Being a one party town the resident’s of DC are used to being treated like cattle. Sadly there is simply too much of the wrong kind of money that flows into DC politics – it’s back scratching cronies from top to bottom. We say that we get the government we deserve, but most in DC do not deserve that government.

    • Zach

      Oh, I don’t know. How do you know Washingtonians don’t support these kinds of restrictions?

      After all, the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is…no guns.

      • Robert

        Tel the bad guy that…

        • Wfeather1940

          He is the bad guy……

  • mp533

    I only disagree with CrassyKnoll in whether DC politicians are unaware of the rest of the Nation. I would assert that they are not only aware, but, like all anti-constitutionalists, they are openly defiant of anything or law with which they do not agree. The rule of law doesn’t apply to progressives, as is clearly evidenced by the chief executive and the chief law enforcement officer.
    2016 can’t arrive quickly enough.

  • yulva

    Shaneen Allen has a concealed carry permit issued by the City of Philadelphia. Now the State of New Jersey is attempting to incarcerate this mother of three. The story is here:

    http://gogetfunding.com/project/shaneen-allen-legal-defense-fund

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