The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has issued a permanent injunction against enforcement of a “good reason” requirement to obtain a concealed carry permit, with a 31-page ruling that contains some stunning language that should send a warning to other jurisdictions with similar rules.
Tuesday’s 2-1 decision is another court victory for the Second Amendment Foundation in a case called Wrenn v. District of Columbia. The ruling was authored by Judge Thomas Beall Griffith, a 2005 George W. Bush appointee. He was joined by Senior Judge Stephen F. Williams, a 1986 Ronald Reagan appointee who assumed senior status in 2001.
Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson, a 1990 George H.W. Bush appointee, dissented.
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The ruling also applies in the separate case of Grace v. District of Columbia, supported by the National Rifle Association.
SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan M. Gottlieb remarked, “Black robes matter.” It was a reference to the importance of who occupies the Oval Office, because that person makes nominations to the federal courts. It is also important which party controls the U.S. Senate, where judicial nominations are confirmed.
Writing for the majority, Judge Griffith noted that, “At the Second Amendment’s core lies the right of responsible citizens to carry firearms for personal self-defense beyond the home, subject to longstanding restrictions…The District’s good-reason law is necessarily a total ban on exercises of that constitutional right for most D.C. residents. That’s enough to sink this law under (the 2008 U.S. Supreme Court’s Heller ruling).”
Judge Griffith goes on in detail about what the Second Amendment protects:
“So in light of Heller I, we can sidestep the historical debate on how the first Northampton law might have hindered Londoners in the Middle Ages. Common-law rights developed over time, and American commentaries spell out what early cases imply: the mature right captured by the Amendment was not hemmed in by longstanding bans on carrying in densely populated areas. Its protections today don’t give out inside the Beltway.”
A few pages later, the majority opinion notes:
“Recall that under Heller I, the Second Amendment protects an individual right of responsible, law-abiding citizens to defend themselves. In particular, then, the right to carry is a right held by responsible, law-abiding citizens for self-defense. But self-defense against what? The most natural answer is that the Amendment enables self-defense at least against the level of threat generally faced by those covered by the Amendment: responsible and law-abiding citizens. Likewise, ‘responsible’ must include those who are no more dangerous with a gun than law-abiding citizens generally are…At a minimum, then, the Second Amendment must enable armed self-defense by commonly situated citizens: those who possess common levels of need and pose only common levels of risk.”
The ruling also said that the District’s “good cause” requirement was essentially designed to prevent the exercise of the right to bear arms by most District residents. Thus, it amounts to a complete prohibition, which would not stand up under the Heller ruling.
“The good-reason law,” Judge Griffith wrote, “is necessarily a total ban on most D.C. residents’ right to carry a gun in the face of ordinary self-defense needs…”
And the court concludes the following:
“To watch the news for even a week in any major city is to give up any illusions about ‘the problem of handgun violence in this country.’ (Heller I, 554 U.S. at 570.) The District has understandably sought to fight this scourge with every legal tool at its disposal. For that long struggle against gun violence, you might see in today’s decision a defeat; you might see the opposite. To say whether it is one or the other is beyond our ken here. We are bound to leave the District as much space to regulate as the Constitution allows—but no more. Just so, our opinion does little more than trace the boundaries laid in 1791 and flagged in Heller I. 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. We vacate both orders below and remand with instructions to enter permanent injunctions against enforcement of the District’s good-reason law.”
“Today’s ruling contains some powerful language that affirms what we have argued for many years, that requiring a so-called ‘good cause’ to exercise a constitutionally-protect right does not pass the legal smell test,” Gottlieb said in a statement. “We’re particularly pleased that the opinion makes it clear that the Second Amendment’s core generally covers carrying in public for self-defense.”
This may not be the last word in this case, however. There is the possibility of an appeal or a request for an en banc (full court) hearing.
If this case winds up before the Supreme Court, it would provide the high court with the opportunity to further define the parameters of the right to keep and bear arms.