Update 7-29-2014: According to The Washington Times, Judge Scullin has ordered a 90-day stay to his ruling, which would ostensibly allow the city council to enact legislation to fit the court decision. The stay will be in effect until October 22.
A five-year legal battle in the nation’s capital took a stunning turn over the weekend after a federal judge threw out the city’s ban on handguns outside the home. On Saturday, District Court Judge Frederick J. Scullin declared the District of Columbia’s handgun ban unconstitutional. Shortly afterwards, Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier instructed officers not to enforce the ban if they see a citizen carrying a handgun, whether openly or concealed. Long guns are still illegal to carry in the city.
The court decision came as a result of a lawsuit filed by four plaintiffs whose applications for city firearm permits were turned down. The attorney spearheading the case, Alan Gura, also previously argued the landmark constitutional case District of Columbia v. Heller, which defended the right to possess a firearm for self-defense and challenged DC’s strict gun laws. Judge Scullin specifically mentioned the Supreme Court’s decision in Heller when writing his 19-page ruling.
“In light of Heller, McDonald, and their progeny, 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.
The decision meant that gun owners with registered handguns will be able to carry them outside the home, and properly-permitted nonresidents will be able to as well. Political experts, however, predict that the court will soon stay its decision. OutdoorHub spoke with Dr. John Lott, a political commentator and the author of More Guns, Less Crime. Lott said that he believes the period of freedom DC gun owners are enjoying may be over soon.
“It seems very likely that they’ll get a stay there and my guess is that the District Court’s decision will be overturned,” Lott stated. “If the District Court judge won’t grant a stay, then they’ll immediately move to the Appeals Court, and the Appeals Court will issue a stay.”
The court ruling received a cold reception from city officials. Earlier this week Mayor Vincent Gray made a statement assuring his supporters that he “remains committed to having reasonable gun safety measures in the District and will work with the [Office of the Attorney General] and DC police to ensure that our gun laws remain strong.”
DC Councilmember Muriel Bowser, considered the front-runner in the race to replace Gray as mayor, told The Washington Post that the decision was “troubling and threatens public safety.”
Lott, who is also the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, said that DC has a long history of gun control.
“In urban areas generally you have more support for gun control as people constantly hear about the bad things that happen and very rarely about any good things related to guns, even though that is where the majority of defensive gun use occurs,” he said. “Relatively few people in urban areas have knowledge of guns, and how they react to guns is conditioned by the media.”
Lott has written extensively about gun control and its effects in the past, leading some media outlets to refer to him as the “gun crowd’s guru.” The author asserted that gun ownership has a direct correlation with crime, although perhaps not in the way many DC politicians think.
“As the percentage of citizens who own firearms increases, the less crime we see,” Lott explained. “One thing that is very clear is that every place in the world that banned guns has seen an increase in murder rates from violent crimes. Not just Washington, DC, or Chicago, [which] have banned guns and seen an increase in murder rates, you look at entire nations that ban guns and see similar relationships.
“People say, ‘Well it’s not fair to look at DC or Chicago because you ban guns there and people can buy them somewhere else.’ But that doesn’t explain why crime rates go up after guns are banned in these places. Look at island nations that don’t have an obvious neighbor to blame for selling guns. You still see the same pattern: guns are banned and it’s the law-abiding citizens who turn in their weapons, not the criminals. To that extent, you’re disarming law-abiding citizens and making it easier for criminals to commit crime.”
Alan Gura, who is watching events closely, warned gun owners on his blog that police policy may be subject to rapid change. While Gura cautioned that the legal battle is far from over, the attorney also called called the court decision a great victory for gun rights in the nation’s capital.
“My deepest thanks to the Second Amendment Foundation for making this victory possible and to my clients for hanging in there,” Gura wrote online. “Congratulations Americans, your capital is not a constitution-free zone.”
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