Arguing that “the potential for armed mischief is perhaps greater in the District of Columbia than in any other American city,” the local government in the nation’s capital asked a federal judge on Monday to reconsider a ruling expanding gun rights beyond one’s own home.

The motion, besides seeking to have that ruling overturned, is partly designed to gain time for the city to prepare a possible appeal and to work on writing new local regulations on licensing to carry handguns in public.  The D.C. government was the last in the nation to bar the public carrying of handguns — until the judge struck that ban down in late July.

The courthouse dispute over the local handgun carrying ban is part of a national legal debate over how widely Second Amendment gun rights are to reach.  So far, the Supreme Court itself has only explicitly protected a personal right to have a gun for use in self-defense inside one’s home.  Two federal appeals courts have said the right reaches beyond the home, but neither of those rulings has reached the Supreme Court.

However, there have been repeated appeals in the past four years to the Supreme Court, seeking to test the underlying constitutional issue, but the Supreme Court has refused review of every one of those cases, without giving reasons.  It has done so even in the face of claims that lower courts are confused and uncertain about where to take the Second Amendment issue.

In the Washington case, Senior U.S. District Judge Frederick J. Scullin, Jr., nullified the local ban on public carrying of handguns by ruling that the right to have a gun in public, for self-defense, is a “core right” under the Second Amendment.

In Monday’s filing, the city government asked the judge to cast aside that ruling and reinstate the ban, arguing that the ruling was wrong in declaring that public carrying of handguns was at the “core” of the Amendment, and was wrong in failing to fully explore the city’s history of regulating guns and its unique need — as the nation’s capital and as an urban complex plagued by gun violence — to prohibit loaded guns in public.

The motion drew a dark portrait of gun-related crime in the city, including attempted assassinations of presidents, threats to foreign leaders, and even threats to the legions of tourists who visit the city.  The city argued that there is adequate police protection of those who live in or visit the city, so there is no need for an armed citizenry to be poised to defend itself on city streets.

Because so much of the territory of the District of Columbia is occupied by the federal government, the motion asserted, city officials should not be forced to try to make calculations of what parts of the city are too “sensitive” to be the places where loaded guns could be safely carried.

Judge Scullin has temporarily put his ruling on hold, to give the city government an opportunity to fashion new carrying regulations, and the city has said it has made a start on that task.  But the city has asked for a longer postponement.  The judge has not yet ruled on that separate request.

In Monday’s filing, the city urged the judge, if he is not willing to overturn his decision, to at least give the city a new opportunity to bring in new evidence on why it needs the carrying ban.  The challengers to the ban would also be given a chance to enlarge their submissions on the public safety issue.  The challengers have argued in court filings that the Washington area is no more prone to violence than other cities, so it is not entitled to a unique authority to compromise gun rights.

The challengers will have a chance to respond to the motion to reconsider before Judge Scullin decides.  If the judge does not reconsider, and if he refuses to reopen the record in the case for new evidence, his ruling nullifying the ban is currently scheduled to go into effect on October 22.

Posted in Cases in the Pipeline, Featured

Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, New plea to limit gun rights in D.C., SCOTUSblog (Aug. 26, 2014, 12:07 AM), http://www.scotusblog.com/2014/08/new-plea-to-limit-gun-rights-in-d-c/