Court Rebukes D.C. for Discretionary Licensing Regime

On May 18, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued an order prohibiting enforcement of provisions of D.C. law that effectively grant to the police chief the discretion to decide who may lawfully exercise the right to bear arms in public for self-defense.

This follows on the heels of an earlier ruling in which the District lost the argument that the right to “bear arms” does not apply outside the home, leading to the hasty enactment of an “emergency” may-issue concealed carry licensing scheme. Such a license is the only means by which most people can lawfully carry firearms in D.C. for self-defense. Monday’s case, Wren v. District of Columbia, made a preliminary ruling that D.C.’s policy of discretionary issuance would likely run afoul of the Second Amendment.

Under D.C.’s law, an applicant must show a “good reason to fear injury to his or her person” or “other proper reason” for the carrying of a concealed handgun. Apart from employment involving the handling or transportation of cash or other valuables, the only way to meet these requirements is to show “a special need for self-protection,” or for protection of a vulnerable family member, “distinguishable from the general community” (emphasis added).

In other words, the District has established a strong legal presumption against exercise of the right that an applicant has to rebut with “evidence of specific threats or previous attacks which demonstrate a special danger” to the life of the applicant or vulnerable family member.

The upshot of these requirements is that most applications will be summarily denied, which D.C. acknowledged to the court was the point of enacting them. The court wrote, “Defendants argue that the … requirement[s] reasonably further[] its important governmental interest in reducing the number of concealed weapons in public in order to reduce the risks to other members of the public and to reduce the disproportionate use of such weapons in the commission of violent crimes.”

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