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Victory in D.C.! Shall-Issue Concealed Carry Coming to the Nation’s Capital

Monday, November 20, 2017

Victory in D.C.! Shall-Issue Concealed Carry Coming to the Nation’s Capital

In a stunning development, District of Columbia officials decided in October that they would not appeal a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit concerning the District’s discretionary concealed carry licensing regime.

This means the District of Columbia – which just over nine years ago banned handgun possession itself – is now a “shall-issue” jurisdiction for concealed carry permits.

The story of how D.C. went from banning handguns to joining the 42 right-to-carry states is one of sustained effort and painstaking advocacy. Your NRA has been there at each critical skirmish in this ongoing battle.

First came the historic decision in District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008. There, the U.S. Supreme Court held that D.C.’s ban on handgun possession and functional firearms within the home violated the Second Amendment. It also conclusively rejected spurious arguments that the Second Amendment protects only a “collective” right of states to maintain militias or an individual right, but only in the context of serving in such a militia.

The District’s reaction to Heller was defiance and denial. It enacted a prohibitively expensive and highly bureaucratic firearm registration system, effectively banned gun shops within D.C., banned many popular firearms, rationed gun sales, and repealed the long-dormant authority of the police chief to issue licenses to carry.

This provoked additional litigation, which for years worked its way through the federal court system, with mixed results for gun owners. Yet even gun-shy federal judges found occasions to rebuke District officials for overreaching into the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding residents.

One case in point was 2014’s Palmer v. District of Columbia, in which the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia held that D.C. officials could not ban carrying firearms outside the home for self-defense.

In response to Palmer, D.C. established a licensing regime that effectively granted the chief of the Metropolitan Police Department discretion over who received a license, a power the chief exercised to summarily dismiss nearly all applications.

Needless to say, this provoked additional litigation. The specific legal issue at stake centered on whether District officials could require applicants to show a “good” or “proper” reason for needing to carry a concealed handgun that distinguished them from the general population. This meant that most otherwise qualified applicants could not obtain a permit, which is the only way to lawfully carry a loaded, accessible firearm in D.C. for self-defense.  

The specific legal issue at stake centered on whether District officials could require applicants to show a “good” or “proper” reason for needing to carry a concealed handgun that distinguished them from the general population. 

That question was eventually answered by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in the combined cases of Wrenn v. District of Columbia and Grace v. District of Columbia.

In a split decision, two judges reasoned that the question was not whether a few select people could exercise their right to bear arms. The question was whether D.C.’s system made that right available to responsible, law-abiding people under ordinary circumstances. Because the majority found that D.C.’s “good” or “proper” reason requirement was effectively a ban on bearing arms by people entitled to Second Amendment protection, it declared the requirement invalid and barred its enforcement.

City officials then asked the full Circuit Court to rehear the case. That request was denied, leaving D.C. with two basic choices: accept the panel’s ruling or appeal it to the U.S. Supreme Court.

To the surprise of many, D.C. officials eventually decided they would not seek review by the U.S. Supreme Court. This meant the Circuit Court’s opinion became controlling law on the issue.

We may never know exactly why District officials chose not to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but they obviously questioned their ability to prevail before the high court. While their arguments had always been weak, they also had a new justice to contend with in Donald Trump nominee Neil M. Gorsuch. I’ve said it before: the importance of judicial nominations cannot be overstated.

If history is any guide, however, D.C. officials will continue to push the envelope on restricting Second Amendment rights. Your NRA will be monitoring the situation closely and will respond appropriately to any further infringements.

Yet law-abiding Americans are now closer in D.C. than they have been in nearly half a century to being able to exercise their right to bear arms outside the home.  That is real progress. If it can happen in Washington, D.C., it can happen in other anti-gun jurisdictions as well.

You can be assured that your NRA won’t rest until it does.

Chris W. Cox

BY Chris W. Cox

Former NRA-ILA Executive Director

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Chris W. Cox served as the executive director of the Institute for Legislative Action, the political and lobbying arm of NRA, until 2019. As NRA’s principal political strategist, Cox oversaw eight NRA-ILA divisions: Federal Affairs; State & Local Affairs; Public Affairs; Grassroots; Finance; Research & Information; Conservation, Wildlife & Natural Resources; and Office of Legislative Counsel. Cox also serves as chairman of NRA’s Political Victory Fund (NRA-PVF), the Association’s political action committee; president of the NRA Freedom Action Foundation (NRA-FAF), which focuses on non-partisan voter registration and citizen education; and chairman of NRA Country, an effort to bring country music artists together with NRA members in support of our Second Amendment freedoms and hunting heritage.

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.