D.C.’s Rule Requiring a “Good Reason” to Carry a Gun Struck Down

The District of Columbia has suffered another defeat in its decades-long effort to restrict gun rights.

Today the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the District’s “good reason” requirement, which obliges individuals to demonstrate a special need before being allowed to carry a gun.

Some background: the District banned all handgun possession, including in the home, in 1976.  That policy was ruled unconstitutional in the Heller I decision in 2008, which held that the 2nd Amendment protects an individual right to have a handgun in the home for self-defense. The District responded to Heller I by banning the public carrying of handguns.  That ban was ruled unconstitutional in Palmer v. District of Columbia in 2014 (Cato’s own Tom Palmer was the named plaintiff in that case). The District was undeterred, and responded to the Palmer ruling by requiring permit applicants to provide a “good reason” why they should be allowed to carry.

The “good reason,” as defined by the D.C. government, is incredibly narrow. Simply being concerned about crime, or living/working in a crime-ridden area of the city does not suffice. Effectively the only people capable of meeting the D.C. test are those working in extraordinarily high-risk occupations or people who have received substantive, specific threats against them.

Two different District Court judges ruled against the “good reason” requirement (one ruling was set aside due to a bit of a procedural morass), and those two cases were combined on appeal to the D.C. Circuit. In a 2-1 decision, a panel of the Court of Appeals struck the “good reason” rule down as unconstitutional.

Judge Griffith of the D.C. Circuit writes:

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. These traditional limits include, for instance, licensing requirements, but not bans on carrying in urban areas like D.C. or bans on carrying absent a special need for self-defense. In fact, the Amendment’s core at a minimum shields the typically situated citizen’s ability to carry common arms generally. 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 Heller I.

 […]

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.

 

It’s important to note that this case is not over.

The District can appeal this ruling back to the D.C. Circuit in order to have it reheard en banc. The case could also ultimately end up in front of the United States Supreme Court which, since its rulings in Heller (2008) and McDonald (2010), hasn’t seen fit to offer further guidance to lower courts on whether the 2nd Amendment applies outside the home. With various federal courts coming to different conclusions on that question, this case represents a great opportunity to finally get a definitive answer from the high court.