federal judge

D.C. Council Votes to Allow Concealed Handguns

The District of Columbia Council voted unanimously Tuesday to allow people to carry concealed handguns in the nation's capital for the first time in nearly 40 years.

The vote came two months after a federal judge struck down the District's ban on carrying handguns outside the home. The judge put his ruling on hold to give the city time to rewrite its gun laws.

Residents and visitors who want to carry a concealed handgun will have to show a specific reason that they need one, among other requirements.

District leaders are hoping that the law would withstand further court challenges. But the attorney who challenged the ban on carrying guns has said the legislation is too restrictive and does not comply with the court ruling.

"We don't live in a country where 'rights' are enjoyed only at the police's pleasure," Attorney Alan Gura said, adding that the bill "does not end the case."

The council spent an hour debating the bill Tuesday morning during an informal breakfast that preceded its legislative meeting. Members expressed concerns with various aspects of the proposal, and many said they would prefer to maintain a total ban on concealed weapons, but none said they would vote against it.

The measure was approved around 4:10 p.m. Tuesday.

"The entire District of Columbia should be a no-carry zone,'' Democratic Councilmember Mary Cheh said before the vote. However, she said she would vote for the bill: "I think we're stuck at the moment.''

The District will join a handful of states that require residents to show a reason why they need a concealed-carry permit.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, a Democrat, said the bill was modeled after laws in Maryland, New Jersey and New York that have withstood court challenges.

The Supreme Court struck down the District's 32-year-old ban on handguns in 2008. Since then, the District has required gun owners to register their firearms every three years, complete a safety course and be fingerprinted and photographed, among other requirements.

Those seeking a concealed-carry permit would have to complete a more extensive safety course than what's required for gun owners. Non-residents would also be able to get licenses if they meet the same standards. Open carrying of firearms would remain illegal.

The city's police chief will decide whether people have a compelling reason to carry a concealed firearm. People who have received death threats or have been the victims of domestic violence are among those who could be granted permits.

There are 3,250 registered handgun owners in the District. Mendelson has said he expects "a few hundred'' people to obtain concealed-carry permits

The emergency legislation approved Tuesday would take effect for 90 days, giving the council time to hold hearings and approve permanent legislation. Although the court's ruling had been put on hold to allow the council to act, federal prosecutors in the District have not been pursuing cases of carrying a pistol in public since the decision was made public.

The bill requires the signature of Mayor Vincent Gray, who has said he plans to sign it.

"This bill ensures that we will be able to meet the requirements of the Constitution while maintaining the maximum amount of safeguards possible to protect our residents, visitors, workers and public-safety officers,'' Gray said in a written statement.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us