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D.C. Council Thumbs Nose at Federal Court and Gun Owners, Proposes Restrictive “May-Issue” Concealed Carry Licensing Regime

Friday, September 19, 2014

In response to the District’s ban on carrying handguns being declared unconstitutional in July, this week the D.C. Council released a bill to create a licensing system to carry a concealed pistol.  While the Council claims that the bill is intended to comply with Judge Frederick J. Scullin’s opinion holding D.C.’s ban to be unconstitutional, a closer inspection of the bill reveals that the practical effect of the bill may be very similar to the District’s current outright ban on carrying firearms. 

To start, issuance of a license to carry a pistol would be left to the discretion of the Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department.  While in some “may-issue” jurisdictions it’s possible for most law-abiding people to get a license, the bill makes clear that only applicants with a “special need” would be granted a license. 

Under the bill, prospective applicants would face a number of hurdles just to complete the application.  At a minimum, an applicant would have to be at least 21 years of age, meet the already burdensome requirements for registering a firearm in the District, not have “suffered in the previous 5 years from any mental illness or condition that creates a substantial risk that he or she is a danger to himself or others,” complete a firearms training course from an approved instructor that is at a minimum 16 hours in length (including a minimum of two hours of live-fire instruction), complete an in-person interview at MPD headquarters, and “follow any procedures the Chief may establish by rule.”  The training requirement in particular will be difficult for District residents (especially low-income resident) to meet given that there are no shooting ranges in the District open to the public.

Even if an applicant completed all of the above steps, MPD could still deny the applicant based on a government bureaucrat’s determination that the applicant does not “need” to carry a firearm.  And even if the MPD did issue the occasional license, the bill would also give MPD the authority to “limit the geographic area, circumstances, or times of the day, week, month, or year in which the license is effective.” 

These limitations would be in addition to the many places where firearms would remain prohibited even with a license. While too numerous to list, they would include: government buildings; schools, including “adjacent parking lots;” childcare facilities; hospitals and buildings “where medical or mental health services are the primary services provided;” public transportation vehicles, including Metro; public gatherings and special events that require a permit; “[t]he area around the White House, namely: between Constitution Avenue and H Street and between 15th and 17th Streets, all Northwest;” and “[w]ithin 1,000 feet … when a dignitary or high ranking official of the United States or a state, local, or foreign government is under the protection of the Metropolitan Police Department, or other law enforcement agency assisting or working in concert with it.” Private property would also generally be treated as a prohibited place under the bill unless a licensee has permission to carry a pistol from the owner or person in control of the property.

As if the bill itself is not bad enough, the Chief of MPD would be given broad authority to create further regulations governing the carrying of concealed pistols.  The bill even prompts the Chief to create certain regulations, including rules “[t]o establish the type and amount of ammunition that may be carried concealed by a licensee” and “[t]o establish the methods by which a pistol may be carried concealed including any standards for safe holstering.”  While it’s obvious that the first of these requests for rulemaking is meant to further limit a licensee’s defensive options, the council’s intent with the second request is unclear.  It seems unlikely that MPD would create a rule governing when, where, or how a licensee could holster his or her pistol or a rule with a list of approved holsters, but those seem to be the only options that would fit within the language of the request for rulemaking.   

Given the numerous and unprecedented hurdles to acquiring a license under the bill, the fact that MPD would have essentially unfettered discretion in deciding whether or not to issue a license, and that so much of the District would remain off limits to carry even to a licensee, the city council has shown that its real intent with this bill is to continue the status quo of denying law-abiding citizens their right to bear arms within the District. 

With the continued obstreperousness from the Council, the best option for true recognition of the right to bear arms in the District is intervention by Congress, which maintains ultimate constitutional authority over the District’s affairs.  We encourage you to contact your members of Congress and urge them to support the Second Amendment Enforcement Act.    

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