D.C. “Shall-Issue”: Two Years of Freedom in Our Nation’s Capital

posted on July 23, 2019

In late July 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued an opinion that effectively made D.C. issue concealed-carry permits on a “shall-issue” basis. Thanks to that ruling, and the District’s reluctance to take the case to the Supreme Court, thousands of law-abiding Americans are now able to exercise their right to bear arms in our nation’s capital. 

The story of how concealed carry came to D.C. starts, of course, with District of Columbia v. Heller. After losing that case in 2008, D.C. amended its laws to only allow for possession of a handgun in a resident’s home or place of business. Since those changes left in place a complete ban on carrying a gun outside the home for personal protection, D.C. again found itself in court defending an unconstitutional law.

And, in 2014, when the District’s ban on carry was held unconstitutional, D.C. changed from a “no-issue” carry regime to “may-issue.” While a permit to carry a firearm was technically available, D.C.’s requirement that an applicant show a “good reason” to carry a firearm meant that the District could continue to deny nearly all applications for a license.

“May-issue” regimes like the one instituted in D.C. give unfettered discretion to the government to decide who can and cannot carry a firearm for self-defense. These arbitrary and discriminatory laws are completely incompatible with our Right to Keep and Bear Arms. We’ve repeatedly witnessed how these laws play out. The wealthy elite and the politically connected are the only Americans who can lawfully carry a firearm under such a system.

In New York City, which has one of the most restrictive “may-issue” carry laws in the country, the licensing unit has been repeatedly plagued with corruption scandals. In the Big Apple, law-abiding Americans must pay “fixers” to help them navigate the byzantine process required to exercise their right to bear arms. Beyond the over $400 in licensing fees, applicants pay “gun-license expeditors” thousands of dollars to simply exercise their fundamental rights. This isn’t a system that’s consistent with our Second Amendment, and it isn’t necessary.

In 42 states, law-abiding Americans are able to exercise their right to bear arms without the arbitrariness and official corruption that accompanies “may-issue” carry laws. That’s why shortly after D.C. amended its law to become “may-issue,” the NRA filed a legal challenge in federal court.

That case, Grace v. D.C., and its companion case, Wrenn v. D.C., eventually led to the 2017 ruling mentioned at the beginning of this article. To avoid a repeat of the Heller case in which D.C.’s attempt to defend its unconstitutional law led to a Supreme Court precedent clearly recognizing the individual right to keep and bear arms, D.C. chose not to appeal the decision. Some D.C. officials even admitted that their decision not to appeal was influenced by the eight states that still retain “may-issue” laws.

These arbitrary and discriminatory laws are incompatible with our right to keep and bear arms.

These states and D.C. seem to recognize that there is no chance for “may-issue” to succeed at the Supreme Court. They know that a system that allows the government to discriminate in choosing who can and cannot exercise their constitutional rights is incompatible with our system of ordered liberty.

Thanks to that ruling, D.C. has now issued thousands of permits to law-abiding gun owners. In the first month under the new “shall-issue” system alone, the District issued almost as many permits as it had in the prior nine months. And, the number of permits issued each month has continued to climb since.

Despite our victory in D.C., we still have a long way to go. While it’s now possible for law-abiding applicants to exercise their right to carry in D.C., millions of Americans live in the eight remaining states that give governments complete discretion in issuing carry permits.

The Supreme Court has already decided to hear an NRA-backed challenge to a New York City law that makes it all but impossible for gun owners to travel with a handgun. New York is now doing its best to change the law, at the 11th hour, to avoid an adverse decision from the Supreme Court.

Whether or not it is are successful in avoiding a ruling from our highest court in this case, the NRA will continue to fight for the right of all law-abiding Americans to carry the firearm of their choosing to defend themselves, their loved ones and their fellow citizens.


Dean Cain
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