Protecting Public Safety

You’ve probably heard that on Monday, a visiting federal judge from New York declared the District’s requirements for carrying guns in public unconstitutional. The D.C. Council enacted those requirements last fall in response to that same judge’s earlier decision declaring the District’s ban on public carrying unconstitutional.

We’re glad that District officials quickly indicated that they want to appeal this decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. We think it’s important that they do so promptly and that they seek a stay of the judge’s decision. We say that for two reasons.

First, we think that forcing the District to begin licensing the widespread carrying of guns on its streets poses a serious threat both to public safety and to national security interests. The sooner the judge’s decision is appealed and stayed, the sooner it can be set right before serious damage is done in the city.

Second, we think an immediate appeal and stay is warranted because we think the chances are good that the Court of Appeals will overturn the judge’s decision. We say that because his decision seems to us to be both incorrect and unprecedented.

For example, the Judge’s decision is premised on the proposition that there is a “core” Second Amendment right to carry concealed weapons outside the home. But even in District of Columbia v. Heller, the case that first said that individuals have a right to possess guns, Justice Scalia indicated for the Supreme Court that the Second Amendment has limits outside the home. In fact, the Court said, “the majority of the 19th-century courts to consider the question held that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment.” Noting this, several U.S. Courts of Appeals have upheld licensing requirements similar to the District’s and declined to hold that the Second Amendment guarantees a right to carry a concealed firearm outside the home.

In addition, the judge also found that the District’s licensing requirements did not sufficiently advance the D.C. Council’s goal of protecting public safety. But every other Court of Appeals that has decided this issue has reached the opposite conclusion and has upheld licensing requirements similar to the District’s. In addition, those courts all indicated that they should not attempt to second-guess the legislatures’ judgments about how best to advance public safety while at the same time protecting the right of self-defense. Yet in the District’s case, the judge rejected the D.C. Council’s judgment on that issue and substituted his own.

For all these reasons–and because the public safety is very much at stake–we hope District officials will act swiftly to appeal the recent decision to the D.C. Circuit and seek to have it stayed pending that appeal.

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