Federal Court Upholds Right to Carry Handguns in Public in D.C.
Alden Abbott /
On July 26, a federal district court in Washington, D.C. struck down as unconstitutional the District of Columbia’s laws totally banning the public carrying of ready-to-use handguns outside the home. The court held that the ban violated the Second Amendment’s protection of the right to bear arms, strongly reaffirming the importance of this individual liberty.
The D.C. Government refused handgun registration applications by three DC residents (Tom Palmer, George Lyon, and Amy McVey) because the applicants indicated they intended to carry their firearms outside the home. As a result, the three residents sued the D.C. Government in federal district court. A fourth individual, not a D.C. resident,and the Second Amendment Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports the right to bear arms, joined in the lawsuit.
The district court reviewed D.C. laws that limited gun licenses to cover only “self-defense within a person’s home” and made it a felony to carry unlicensed pistols in public. The court focused on the Supreme Court’s decisions in Heller (2008) and McDonald (2010), which held that laws that totally ban handgun possession violate the Second Amendment. It highlighted language in those decisions that carrying a handgun outside the home for self-defense qualifies as “bear[ing] Arms.” Accordingly, the court concluded that D.C.’s total ban on the public carrying of ready-to-use handguns outside the home was unconstitutional “under any level of scrutiny.” It then barred DC from enforcing the home use limitation of its gun laws until it adopts a licensing mechanism consistent with the Second Amendment.
Neither this nor other recent court decisions precludes states and localities from licensing and regulating handgun use. But this holding, consistent with other lower court decisions, indicates that the Supreme Court’s affirmation of the individual right to bear arms continues to be taken very seriously by the judiciary, and will guide future court review of state and local gun use restrictions.