Concealed Carry Controversy

It is clear and absolute. A Federal court has ruled that residents be allowed, for the first time in 40 years, to carry a concealed handgun within the confines of the District. The question at hand now is which citizens will actually be allowed to carry a gun when they venture outside the home.

The city has chosen to operate as a “may issue” jurisdiction on guns, one in which an applicant must demonstrate a specific “need” for carrying a concealed weapon. This differs from the “shall issue” rules presiding in a majority of states, where simply desiring a permit to carry a handgun is reason enough. In D.C., the “may issue” roadblocks appear to be virtually insurmountable.

To obtain a permit an applicant must prove that they face a preexisting and personal threat such as stalking or domestic abuse. A generalized fear for personal safety is not reason enough, nor is living next to a drug-house, or even being the past victim of a burglary. Additionally, the city has made the police the sole arbiters of who may and who may not carry. They claim, as the chief did recently, that only the police are best situated to “use reasonable, sound judgment in evaluating what the person articulates as a threat.”

Certainly, it makes sense to place some well thought through hoops for any applicant to jump through before letting them stuff a Glock into their waistbands, but making it almost impossible to do so is spitting in the eye of the Court. One well-trod justification for such heavy-handed restriction is the nature of the city itself. The worry is that guns in close proximity to political leaders will inevitably lead to tragedy. Another concern frequently voiced is that a licensed gun-carrying citizen can easily enter a school or political demonstration and wreak havoc. While the thought of another shooting tragedy is horrible to consider, is it likely that such a suitably unhinged person will really be terribly concerned with carefully following the permitting process?

While the very fact of fear for one’s personal safety should carry great weight in the permitting process, it doesn’t. The law’s requirement that you must have already been victimized seems a bit like closing the barn doors after the cows have left. Such logic is backwards. We are arming a citizenry of victims that may be far more likely to react impulsively and badly in a desperate situation.

As many of us did, I sat glued to the news when the Virginia Tech, Columbine, and Aurora, Co. movie theatre shootings took place. The misery, sorrow and devastation made me wonder after each event if the numbers of those killed would have been less if someone had stopped the rampaging killers by being armed, trained and ready to respond.

We live in a truly maddening time. The police do what they can, but their real job is to respond and by then, it is frequently far too late. As for me, I’ll be in line when applications for concealed-carry are taken.

As a result of a ruling by a Federal judge in July that the District – which once had the strictest gun restriction laws in the nation – violated the 2nd Amendment with its “no-carry law.” The judge ruled the law unconstitutional then stayed the execution of the ruling until October 22.

In the meantime, the D.C. Council – plainly reluctant to do so, but trying to come up with legislation that would comply with the judge’s ruling – crafted a dense and imperfect law that allowed registered gun owners to carry a weapon, but not openly display it. The law contained a set of restrictions that plainly did not sit well with the attorney for the plaintiffs of the suit. In addition to geographical restrictions on where hand guns could be carried – not near a church, public building, schools or in bars – the legislation makes gun owners who want to carry a gun in public apply to the chief of police and show a need and reason for being allowed to carry a gun, such as a viably perceived and actual threats to their safety.

Opponents don’t want such restrictions – they’ve said the no carry law violates the constitution, and gun owners should be allowed to carry guns, period.

It’s another variation on an ongoing national and local debate about guns, about the kinds of guns that can be restricted, registration, background checks, concealed carrying or not carrying, and so on. Often, but not always, these debates are sparked by mass shootings in the work place, on military posts, or at schools.

Alan Gura, the attorney for a suit against the government is not happy with the restrictions.

I can see where he might be unhappy, especially with having to provide a reason for wanting to carry a gun in public. The stated reason has always been self-defense. But defense against what or who? That’s a fundamental question, because it allows the gun owner – who is not a public safety professional – to decide when he or she feels threatened, which presents can of legal, social and cultural worms. It comes uncomfortably close to the potentially violent mischievousness of “stand your ground” laws in other jurisdictions. Do we really need more people toting guns at the many mass demonstrations that are held in this city?

Confronted with terrible mass shootings, especially those in schools, it’s fair to ask how those shootings might have been prevented. It’s fair to think that if armed citizens were in proximity, or if armed teachers at schools might have been in place, that those shootings might not have happened. It’s also fair to think that the shootings might have been prevented if gun restrictions and laws were not constantly being diluted, or allowed to die, like the Brady bill.

The council’s restrictions in responses to the judge’s orders may seem cumbersome and difficult to advocates for the right to carry and carry openly, but they should be difficult. Carrying a gun in your pocket or a holster is no light matter in terms of consequences. It ought to weigh a ton.

Gun rights advocates and NRA officials often use that tired old phrase “guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” They got it half right – most of the time, people with guns kill people.

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