WASHINGTON, D.C. - If you have the urge to stroll in an American city where it isn’t legal to carry a gun around, you’d better come to Washington, D.C., pronto.
The District has long had some of the strictest gun control laws in the country, but courts are getting rid of them here and elsewhere.
It was in a case about Washington’s ban on handguns, District of Columbia v. Heller, that the Supreme Court for the first time decided unequivocally that the Second Amendment conveyed an individual right to keep and bear arms, a right “oriented” on self-defense.
Subsequent decisions have made clear that the right to “bear arms” means the right to carry around firearms outside of the home. The right isn’t absolute; courts have accepted permitting processes and bans of guns from certain places – such as courtrooms.
Many municipalities have tried to ban or drastically limit the “right to carry.” And most of those laws have been tossed out.
The District’s ban on having a firearm outside of the home is one of the last, and it was overturned this week by a federal judge. Judge Frederick Scullin wrote “there is no longer any basis on which this Court can conclude that the District of Columbia’s total ban on the public carrying of ready-to-use handguns outside the home is constitutional under any level of scrutiny.”
The District will most likely now create a process where owners of registered guns apply for permits. And there will be litigation about that process, its rules and conditions.
The whole “right to carry” issue is a less visible frontier in the dispute over gun control than, say, restrictions on gun purchases. But that seems to be changing.
There is a substantial push for reciprocity laws that would allow states to recognize carry permits from other states. And part of the recent D.C. decision opened the door for that in ruling that visitors to Washington can’t be barred from carrying weapons.
Then there’s the rather more aggressive approach that seems to be popular mostly in the West of staging right-to-carry demonstrations.
A group of people legally carrying various weapons and all sorts of imposing firearms show up at fast-food restaurants or stores – to make a subtle point. When well-armed demonstrators showed up at a Jack in the Box in Ft. Worth in May, patrons and employees were reported to be, well, rather startled.
Assault weapons slung over the shoulder are not always relaxing to non-carriers. Some businesses have tried to ban guns from their premises and that has become a whole new battle point. Jack in the Box, for example, now is trying to ban guns. Target is the focus of protests on both sides.
Such episodes show how much the argument about guns is cultural – and emotional. Tragedies like Sandy Hook stir up both sides. It is hard for the two sides to even comprehend each other.
But in the post-Heller legal world, gun rights are expanding. This week’s ruling in Washington is the latest example. But gun rights advocates will keep pushing the envelope.
As Michael Waldman says in his recent book “The Second Amendment: A Biography,” “Once we realize that gun ownership is now deemed a constitutionally protected, legal right, we cannot know how it will unspool over time.”
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