WASHINGTON – A federal judge in Washington halted enforcement of a portion of the city's strict gun law Tuesday in a ruling that conflicts with another judge's assessment of the law earlier this year and sets up two competing views for a higher court.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Leon ruled Tuesday that a section of the city's law that requires people who want to carry a gun in public to show a "good reason to fear injury" or another "proper reason" to carry the weapon "likely places an unconstitutional burden" on citizens' right to bear arms.
Leon's decision to grant a preliminary injunction stands in contrast to a ruling by his colleague, U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who sided with the city in a separate dispute earlier this year and declined to issue a preliminary injunction. Kollar-Kotelly said that opponents had not shown that their lawsuit was likely to be successful, leading her to deny the request for a preliminary injunction. She also noted that appeals courts in other parts of the country had approved of laws in New York, New Jersey and Maryland that are similar to the District of Columbia's.
Kollar-Kotelly was nominated by a Democrat, President Bill Clinton, and Leon by a Republican, President George W. Bush.
D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine, whose office has been defending the law, said his office believes the city's law is constitutional and will ask Leon to put his ruling on hold while the city appeals.
"We believe that the District's gun laws are reasonable and necessary to ensure public safety in a dense urban area," he said in a statement.
Tuesday's case involves a District of Columbia resident, Matthew Grace, and a shooting group he belongs to, the Pink Pistols. They are challenging the city's requirement that a person who wants to carry a concealed handgun outside the home show he or she has a "good reason to fear injury to his or her person or property" or another "proper reason" for carrying the weapon. Reasons might include a personal threat, or a job that requires a person to carry or protect cash or valuables.
Leon characterized the city's law as an "understandable, but overly zealous, desire to restrict the right to carry in public a firearm for self-defense to the smallest possible number of law-abiding, responsible" citizens.
"Because the right to bear arms includes the right to carry firearms for self-defense both in and outside the home, I find that the District's 'good reason' requirement likely places an unconstitutional burden on this right," he wrote in a 46-page ruling.
Charles Cooper, an attorney representing Grace and the shooting group, said Tuesday he was "really gratified" by the ruling.
Leon is actually the third federal judge to rule on a preliminary injunction related to the city's "good reason" gun law regulation. Like Leon, the first judge to rule on the issue, Judge Frederick J. Scullin Jr., initially granted a preliminary injunction in May 2015. That ruling was appealed, and the appeals court ruled late last year that Scullin didn't have the authority to decide the case. Kollar-Kotelly was then assigned to that case and denied the preliminary injunction request.