In a surprising decision, a federal judge overturned Washington, D.C.’s open and concealed carry ban this past weekend. While the ruling has received some fanfare, few reports have paid attention to the section in the order that invalidated D.C.’s firearms residency requirements. Just lifting the ban would have affected the approximately 630,000 residents living within the District of Columbia, but the judge went a step further with his little noticed residency decree.
Legal experts say this is the first time a judge has ruled on—or even been presented with in this manner—the hot-button firearms issues of residency and reciprocity. The judge determined that non-residents cannot be barred from carrying handguns in D.C. simply because they do not live there. This establishes an uncharted precedent that has the potential to affect gun laws across the country. In the interim, it has already made huge waves inside our nation’s capital.
The immediate implications are significant, according to John Lott, a preeminent gun law expert and president of the Crime Prevention Research Center. “We have a big experiment now, where people who come into work in D.C. are going to be able to carry....In fact, even more people can carry now in D.C. than can carry in Virginia or Maryland. In Maryland, it’s very difficult to get a permit, but I can go and lock my gun in my trunk in Maryland, drive into work in D.C., and as soon as I cross the border, take the gun out and put it in my pocket.”
In light of the judgment in Palmer v. District of Columbia, D.C. police chief Cathy Lanier issued a memorandum Sunday that in effect makes the District of Columbia a “constitutional carry” entity—meaning that anyone who legally possesses a handgun can carry it, openly or concealed, within D.C.’s boundaries. This puts the District in the company of a handful of states that do not require carry permits, including Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Vermont, Wyoming (which still requires permits for non-residents), and 99.4 percent of Montana.
This is somewhat amusing, considering D.C. has some of the strictest gun laws in the country—a complete “assault weapons” ban, a 10-round magazine capacity limit, a 10-day waiting period, a limit of one firearm registration every 30 days, and a limited list of approved firearms. If an individual does not own a registered gun, the penalty for simply possessing ammunition is up to a $1,000 fine and/or up to one year in prison. D.C. also happens to be the only entity in the whole country that requires the registration of all handguns and long guns—not to mention that D.C. only allowed gun ownership after the Supreme Court mandated it in the 2008 Heller case.
In a strongly worded opinion, senior U.S. District Court Judge Frederick Scullin, Jr., citing the Supreme Court’s landmark Heller and McDonald cases, the Seventh Circuit’s Moore case, and the Ninth Circuit’s Peruta case, reaffirmed that the right to bear arms is an individual right extending outside the home. Therefore, the complete carry ban in Washington, D.C. is unconstitutional:
Finally, as the Peruta court pointed out, "[u]nderstanding the scope of the right is not just necessary, it is key to [the court's] analysis [because,] if self-defense outside the home is part of the core right to 'bear arms' and the [District of Columbia's] regulatory scheme prohibits the exercise of that right, no amount of interest-balancing under a heightened form of means-end scrutiny can justify [the District of Columbia's] policy."