monday, 19 september of 2016

Federal Appeals Court to Hear Two Cases Challenging D.C. Gun Law

The federal appeals court in the nation’s capital, regarded by many as second only to the U.S. Supreme Court in stature, is slated to examine the Second Amendment’s reach outside the home.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is scheduled to hear arguments in two cases on Tuesday that present questions at the bleeding edge of Second Amendment law: Is there a constitutional right to carry a handgun outside the home? And if so, how much can the government limit that right?

The court is weighing a Washington, D.C., law that requires anyone seeking a license to carry a concealed gun to show “good reason to fear injury.”

Living in a high-crime neighborhood isn’t reason enough, according to rules put out by D.C.’s chief of police. Applicants have to show “a special need for self-protection distinguishable from the general community,” under the 2014 law.

Four federal regional appeals courts have upheld similar requirements in California, Maryland, New Jersey and New York. But they offered varying views of the Second Amendment’s strength in public.

The Supreme Court has yet to review a concealed-carry case since its landmark 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller that recognized an individual’s right to possess a gun for self-defense. But the justices could be tempted to act if the D.C. Circuit were to strike down the District’s law, creating a split, legal experts say.

The D.C. cases are steered by two factions of the gun-rights movement. Alan Gura, best-known for taking the Heller case to the U.S. Supreme Court, represents the Second Amendment Foundation, a gun-rights group whose members sued the D.C. government in February 2015 to challenge its requirement that applicants for concealed-carry licenses show “good reason.”

Charles Cooper, the National Rifle Association’s go-to lawyer, is representing the Pink Pistols, an organization that advocates for concealed firearms for the self-defense of the LGBTQ community. The group filed a similar challenge in December 2015.

Members of both the Pink Pistols and the Second Amendment Foundation applied for licenses to carry concealed guns and were denied for failing to show good reason to fear injury.

Mr. Cooper called the demand “categorically irreconcilable with the Second Amendment” in an August brief filed in the D.C. Circuit.

D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine has defended the law as “reasonable and necessary to ensure public safety in a dense urban area.”

The lawsuits met separate fates. U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled against the Second Amendment Foundation in March, prompting Mr. Gura’s appeal to the D.C. Circuit.

In a separate court, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon ruled in favor of Pink Pistols, suspending the concealed-carry law in a May order and forcing the D.C. government to appeal.

Supporters and opponents of the law have spun dueling historical narratives to show that the Second Amendment, at the time of its drafting, contemplated their respective views of its reach outside the home.

According to the D.C. government, around the time of the Second Amendment’s ratification, more than half the original states and D.C. banned open and concealed carrying of firearms in fairs, markets and other populated places.

The laws were patterned after the Statute of Northampton, an English law enacted in 1328 that said “no man” could “go nor ride armed by night nor by day, in Fairs, Markets, nor in the presence of the Justices or other Ministers, nor in no part elsewhere.”

In the 1800s, many states and territories adopted precursors to “good reason” laws, limiting public carrying to those with “reasonable cause to fear an assault.”

“For almost two centuries, the public has recognized the need for—and accepted as constitutional—laws restricting carrying in the public concourse without a particularized self-defense reason,” Holly Johnson, an assistant attorney general, wrote in a July legal brief.

The gun-rights groups have accused the D.C. government of revisionist history.

The ancient English statute permitted law-abiding citizens to carry common arms, barring only “dangerous and unusual” weapons wielded to terrify the public, according to Mr. Cooper’s August brief. The American laws influenced by the Statute of Northampton enumerated the same limits, he said.

The laws that followed in the 1800s, described by the D.C. government as precursors to the modern concealed-carry restrictions, operated “precisely in the opposite manner,” Mr. Gura wrote in a June brief. Gun owners could go armed even if others presented proof they were dangerous. They needed only pay a surety.

“Luminaries including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and John Adams all publicly carried or at least advocated the public carrying of firearms,” Mr. Gura wrote.

(Published by The Wall Street Journal - September 17, 2016)

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