For many years, the District of Columbia prohibited individuals from carrying handguns in public in order to protect District residents and visitors from gun violence. On July 26, 2014, however, a trial court judge interpreted the Second Amendment to allow individuals to carry guns outside of the home, and struck down the District’s policy. The judge’s ruling in the case, Palmer v. District of Columbia, allows residents and non-residents alike to carry handguns1. Fortunately,The ruling has been stayed for 90 days to allow the District to appeal the decision, or institute a licensing scheme that regulates the carrying of guns in public.

By far the most litigated Second Amendment issue since the Supreme Court’s controversial 2008 decision in Heller v. District of Columbia—which found that law-abiding, responsible individuals have a right to own an operable handgun for self-defense in the home—is whether the Second Amendment also protects a right to carry a firearm outside the home.2  As the Palmer court recognized, the Supreme Court has not yet ruled on this issue3, while a significant number of lower courts have concluded that the Second Amendment only protects the right to possess a gun for self-defense in the home. Nonetheless, since Heller, emboldened gun-lobby groups and individual plaintiffs have brought an onslaught of cases challenging laws that regulate a person’s ability to carry a gun outside of the home.

As of 2012, the only two jurisdictions prohibiting the practice of possessing guns outside the home were Washington, D.C. and Illinois. Illinois’ law was struck down in 2012 on Second Amendment grounds by the Seventh Circuit in Moore v. Madigan.4  The Moore court made clear, however, that laws regulating the possession of guns outside the home are permissible and the court suggested that regulations granting law enforcement discretion to issue concealed carry permits would be constitutional.

Significantly, the majority of courts that have reviewed laws placing sensible regulations on the carrying of guns in public have upheld those laws. For example, courts have upheld laws that:

  • Require an applicant for a license to carry a concealed weapon to show “good cause,” “proper cause,” or “need,” qualify as a “suitable person5”; 
  • Require an applicant to submit affidavits evidencing good character6;
  • Prohibit the issuance of a concealed carry permit based on a misdemeanor assault conviction7;
  • Require an applicant for a concealed carry license to be at least twenty-one years old8; and,
  • Allow the revocation of the permit if law enforcement determines that the permit holder poses a material likelihood of harm9.

The Palmer decision does not prevent the District from enacting smart laws that regulate who can carry guns in our nation’s capital and which places should be off-limits to guns. In fact, the Palmer court was careful to note that the District has many policy options available to it to regulate the carrying of guns in public.

For more on the District’s considerable options to regulate guns in public, see our policy pages on Concealed Weapons Permitting and Open Carrying of firearms.

  1. 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 101945. The Palmer court held that the District cannot prohibit non-residents from carrying firearms in the District solely because they are not District residents. The court reasoned that non-residents also have a Second Amendment right to carry guns outside the home for self-defense. However, in Peterson v. Martinez, 707 F.3d 1197, 1202 (10th Cir. 2013), the Tenth Circuit upheld Colorado’s law limiting concealed carry permits to Colorado residents. The court found the residency requirement to be constitutional and substantially related to the important government interest of protecting public safety. And in Dearth v. Holder, 641 F.3d 499, 500-501 (D.C. Cir. 2011), the District of Columbia Circuit Court also upheld a federal law requiring a gun purchaser to be a U.S. resident. ⤴︎
  2. 554 U.S. 570, 626 (2008). ⤴︎
  3. Without Supreme Court precedent on this issue, the Palmer decision relied heavily on a radical and extreme 2-1 decision by the Ninth Circuit in Peruta v. County of San Diego, 742 F.3d 1144 (9th Cir. 2014). In Peruta, a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals considered whether a person’s generalized desire to carry a gun in public for self-defense qualifies as “good cause” for the issuance of concealed carry permits. San Diego’s policy was not to issue concealed carry permits unless the applicant could demonstrate a particularized need beyond a generalized desire for self-defense. The divided panel held that San Diego’s application of the good cause requirement violated the Second Amendment. The State of California has sought to intervene in the case and requested en banc review from a full Ninth Circuit panel of judges, which may result in the overturning of the original decision. Additionally, the Palmer court based its decision on Moore v. Madigan 708 F.3d 901, 903 (7th Cir. Ill. 2013). ⤴︎
  4. 708 F.3d 901, 903 (7th Cir. Ill. 2013). ⤴︎
  5. Drake v. Filko, 724 F.3d 426 (3rd. Cir. 2013). ⤴︎
  6. Williams v. Puerto Rico, 910 F. Supp. 2d 386 (D.P.R. 2012). ⤴︎
  7. Kelly v. Riley, 733 S.E.2d 194 (N.C. Ct. App. Nov. 6, 2012). ⤴︎
  8. NRA v. McCraw, 719 F.3d 338 (5th Cir. 2013). ⤴︎
  9. Embody v. Cooper, 2013 Tenn. App. LEXIS 343 (May 22, 2013). ⤴︎