The NRA won a big one Friday when District Court Judge Frederick Scullin, Jr., issued a long-awaited decision in Palmer, et. al., vs. District of Columbia, a case that was initially brought in 2005 against DC’s total ban on carrying concealed guns outside the home. The judge not only ordered the District to stop enforcing its concealed-carry ban, but also ordered the District to stop enforcing the same ban against non-residents who want to travel through DC while carrying a gun. This is because one of the plaintiffs, Edward Raymond, was a resident of Maryland and held a concealed-carry permit from his state of residence but did not have any legal authorization to carry a gun in DC. Nevertheless the District Court noted that, “the District of Columbia may not completely bar him, or any other qualified individual, from carrying a handgun in public for self-defense simply because they are not residents of the District.”
Wow! Talk about a gift. If this ruling is not challenged and overthrown, Palmer vs. DC paves the way for the gun lobby to get what it has always wanted, namely, national concealed-carry without having to pass a federal law at all. Every year pro-gun Senators and Congressmen routinely file bills that call for a reciprocal concealed-carry, much in the same way that a driver’s license issued by any one state is valid in every state jurisdiction in the land. Such laws have never gotten to the floor of either chamber for a vote, but Judge Scullin’s decision may nullify the need to travel down this legal avenue any more.
Much of Judge Scullin’s reasoning followed from the recent Peruta decision, in which the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a concealed-carry law that had effectively made it impossible to carry a gun outside the home in San Diego County. This decision struck down the County’s law which required applicants to show “good cause” for wanting to carry a gun outside the home, because the definition of good cause went far beyond a general desire for self-protection and basically required the applicant to prove that without a gun he or she would be unable to protect themselves against a specific threat and therefore would be placing themselves in “harm’s way.” The Peruta decision claimed that the 2nd Amendment, as decided in Heller, required some form of concealed-carry outside the home. This is an interesting reading of Scalia’s decision in Heller, which explicitly limited civilian ownership of guns to keeping them within the home.
There are now five federal circuit courts that have ruled on whether the 2nd Amendment protects concealed-carry outside the home. Right now the score is 3-2 in favor of the more limited view of the 2nd Amendment that defines the “right to bear arms” as allowing people to keep a gun for self-defense inside their homes. But even the more expansive 2nd Amendment interpretations of the Seventh and Ninth Circuits give issuing authorities the right to “regulate” the issuance of concealed-carry as long as the regulations do not effectively prevent the average citizen from walking around with a gun. What cooked the goose of San Diego County was the willingness of the County to grant CCW to certain individuals (retired law enforcement, federal officers, etc.) which meant that the right was being extended to certain people but not others, a clear abridgement of any Constitutional right.
To date the SCOTUS has refused to resolve the disagreements between the different federal circuit courts over how far to extend 2nd Amendment guarantees. But even if that bench remains silent, the decision by Judge Scullin to extend concealed-carry reciprocity to people who visit but do not live in DC could effectively make concealed-carry the de facto law of the land. Given the fact that only 9 states had any degree of unfettered concealed-carry laws less than thirty years ago, perhaps it’s time for the NRA to stop preaching that gun owners constitute a persecuted minority whose rights to own and carry guns are constantly under attack.