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D.C. Council Moves Forward with Backward Concealed Carry Law

Friday, October 17, 2014

This week, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier announced that the District would soon begin accepting applications for licenses to carry a concealed pistol.  It’s questionable if many applicants will actually receive a license because of the nearly unfettered discretion given to the chief under the temporary law that is currently in effect.  That law has numerous problems, yet the D.C. City Council appears to be intent on making the temporary law permanent. 

At a hearing on the permanent concealed carry bill, which is virtually identical to the current temporary law, members of the council and Chief Lanier hinted that they may actually be planning to make the law worse.  The Washington Times reports that Lanier proposed two changes while at the hearing. 

First, Lanier proposes that taxi drivers be prohibited from carrying a firearm, presumably only while they are actually working.  The public safety benefit of such a prohibition is not clear, but it is clear that such a requirement would pose a serious danger to cab drivers who have a very real need to carry a firearm.  The law requires an applicant to show a special need to carry a firearm that requires the applicant to demonstrate “good reason to fear injury to his or her person, which shall at a minimum require a showing of a special need for self-protection distinguishable from the general community as supported by evidence of specific threats or previous attacks which demonstrate a special danger to the applicant’s life . . . .”  Notwithstanding that this requirement all but requires an applicant to be a victim of a violent crime before applying for a license, which for some will be too late, Chief Lanier is seeking to deny a person who is in such imminent danger of the most a ready means to defend themselves based on their occupation as a cab driver.

Lanier would also like to further compound the problems in the law with places where even a licensee cannot carry a firearm.  Because the temporary law and the proposed bill have several prohibited places that would be difficult for a licensee to identify, the law and bill both require that a person is informed of the existence of one of these prohibited places before they are arrested.  Lanier would like to eliminate this notice requirement for “public gatherings and special events.”  The chief did not explain how a licensee is supposed to tell the difference between an official “public gathering” and any other gathering of people, but she does want the authority to arrest any licensee who mistakenly enters one of these gatherings or events while carrying a firearm.

No changes were actually adopted at the hearing, but the council and Chief Lanier seem intent on implementing a law that fails to comply with the court decision that held the District’s prior ban on carrying handguns unconstitutional.  Councilmember Tommy Wells obliquely admitted that the current proposal is likely unconstitutional when he told the audience at the hearing that the council would likely be forced to revisit the law in the future.  Rather than passing such a blatantly unconstitutional proposal, perhaps Councilmember Wells and the rest of the council should instead focus on upholding their oaths of office by introducing and passing legislation more in line with the 42 states that actually respect their citizens’ right to bear arms. 

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