For decades, Washington, D.C., had some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation — banning both the ownership of handguns and the ability to carry guns in public spaces. But recent court decisions have chipped away at the foundation of D.C.’s gun control framework. Not only do these decisions make the Georgetown community and this city less safe, they threaten the substantial progress that D.C. has made in reducing violence in its most vulnerable communities.
The decision by Federal District Court Judge Frederick J. Scullin Jr. last month to strike down D.C.’s decades-old ban on carrying handguns — both openly and concealed — in public spaces comes nearly six years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in D.C. v. Heller, which struck down the District’s blanket ban on handgun ownership, calling it a violation of the Second Amendment.
But as many community leaders, such as D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, have pointed out, the issue is not as simple as many claim. Gun violence has ravaged American cities like Chicago and New Orleans, and while Second Amendment precedent has affirmed the public’s right to own handguns, it does not, as this most recent case asserts, affirm the right to carry guns in crowded public spaces and the neighborhood grocery store.
The D.C. Council now must decide in the next 90 days whether to appeal the court’s decision or rewrite the law in accordance with it. The District has seen its number of homicides per year fall from 399 in 1994 to a record-low 88 2012. While it is unfair to attribute those statistics entirely to D.C.’s gun laws, it would be equally unfair to deny the impact the laws have had on communities across the District, both west and east of the Anacostia River.
If the decision is made to appeal the court’s ruling, one can only hope the public interest in safety is balanced with Second Amendment rights. If the decision is made to rewrite the laws, it must be done with public safety as a top priority and respect for the District’s sovereignty.