Requiring that individuals must have a “good reason” to need firearms for personal protection is a rule designed to defy the Second Amendment, a federal appeals court has decided, striking down the laws intended to curb gun ownership in the US capital.
The three-judge panel at the DC Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 against the District of Columbia. Judges Thomas B. Griffith and Stephen F. Williams were in the majority, while Judge Karen L. Henderson dissented.
“We are bound to leave the District as much space to regulate as the Constitution allows – but no more,” wrote Judge Griffith in the decision issued Tuesday. “And the resulting decision rests on a rule so narrow that good-reason laws seem almost uniquely designed to defy it: that the law-abiding citizen’s right to bear common arms must enable the typical citizen to carry a gun.”
The District, which is home to federal government institutions, banned all handguns in 1976. That ban was struck down by the US Supreme Court in 2008 (DC v. Heller). A ban on carrying handguns was struck down in 2014 (Palmer v. DC), which resulted in the current law, requiring individuals applying for a concealed-carry license to demonstrate “good reason to fear injury” to person or property or “any other proper reason for carrying a pistol.”
For Tuesday’s ruling, the court combined two separate but related appeals, in which the plaintiffs sought an injunction against the District enforcing the “good reason” law. The law was challenged by Brian Wrenn and the Second Amendment Foundation, Inc. as well as Matthew Grace and the Pink Pistols, a group arguing that sexual minorities should be allowed to carry firearms for self-defense. Lower courts had denied the injunction to Wrenn and granted it to Grace.
The District had argued that its gun control laws were necessary for public safety, that DC was a densely populated urban area, and that the presence of federal officials warranted special security concerns.
The District’s law merited invalidation “regardless of its precise benefits,” because the Second Amendment “erects some absolute barriers that no gun law may breach,” the majority decision held.
In her dissent, Judge Henderson sided with the District that licensing laws were intended for “the prevention of crime and the promotion of public safety,” adding that the “core” Second Amendment right applies to possession of self-defense weapons at home, but not outside.