WASHINGTON — Appeals court judges had tough questions Tuesday for attorneys defending a District of Columbia law that makes it difficult for gun owners to get concealed carry permits.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit heard arguments Tuesday in two cases involving the law, which requires people who want to carry a gun in public to show a “good reason to fear injury” or another “proper reason” to carry the weapon. Reasons might include a personal threat, or a job that requires a person to carry or protect cash or valuables. Fewer than 100 people have been granted a concealed carry permit under the law, and lower court judges have disagreed on whether it is likely constitutional.
During oral arguments Tuesday, Judge Thomas B. Griffith suggested that the law means that a woman who lives in a dangerous neighborhood, is frightened and wants to carry a gun for self-protection can’t and is limited to “running” if attacked or “learning martial arts.”
“Why should someone show a need for self-defense?” said Griffith, who asked numerous questions of lawyers arguing for the city. At one point he told a city attorney that her argument was “absurd.”
Judge Stephen F. Williams also seemed concerned with the law and said the distinction between an outright ban on carrying a gun and the city’s “good reason” requirement was subtle.
The third judge hearing the case, Karen LeCraft Henderson, didn’t ask any questions.
All three judges hearing the case were appointed by Republican presidents.
The hearing is the latest in a long-running tussle over the city’s gun laws. Eight years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the city’s ban on handguns, leading the city to rewrite its gun laws. City law now requires residents to register guns kept at their homes or businesses, and more than 16,500 guns have been registered, according to police.
Anyone who wants to carry a weapon outside the home needs a separate concealed carry license. The police department said last week that 89 people have been granted concealed carry permits and 374 have been denied.
Lower court judges have been divided over the city law. In March, U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly sided with the city and declined to issue a preliminary injunction halting the enforcement of the law. She noted that appeals courts in other parts of the country had approved of laws in New York, New Jersey and Maryland that are similar to the District of Columbia’s.
But in May, ruling in a different dispute, U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Leon said the law “likely places an unconstitutional burden” on citizens’ right to bear arms. He would have suspended enforcement of the “good reason” or “proper reason” part of the law, but his ruling was put on hold by the appeals court now hearing the case. As a result, the city has continued to enforce the law.
Kollar-Kotelly was nominated by a Democrat, President Bill Clinton, and Leon by a Republican, then-President George W. Bush.
Nine states — Maryland, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington — filed a brief supporting the District of Columbia. The National Rifle Association and sixteen other states — Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming — filed briefs opposing the law.