DC Council expected to allow concealed handguns

A reluctant District of Columbia Council is expected to allow people to carry concealed handguns in the nation's capital for the first time in nearly 40 years.

The bill scheduled for a vote Tuesday was crafted to comply with a court ruling that struck down the District's ban on carrying handguns outside the home.

Residents and visitors who want to carry a concealed handgun would have to show a specific reason that they need one, among other requirements, and District leaders are hoping that the law would withstand further court challenges. But the attorney who challenged the ban on carrying guns has said the legislation is too restrictive and does not comply with the court ruling.

The council spent an hour debating the bill Tuesday morning during an informal breakfast that preceded its legislative meeting. Members expressed concerns with various aspects of the proposal, and many said they would prefer to maintain a total ban on concealed weapons, but none said they would vote against it.

"The entire District of Columbia should be a no-carry zone," Democratic Councilmember Mary Cheh said. However, she said she would vote for the bill: "I think we're stuck at the moment."

The District would join a handful of states that require residents to show a reason why they need a concealed-carry permit. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, a Democrat, said the bill was modeled after laws in Maryland, New Jersey and New York that have withstood court challenges.

The Supreme Court struck down the District's 32-year-old ban on handguns in 2008. Since then, the District has required gun owners to register their firearms every three years, complete a safety course and be fingerprinted and photographed, among other requirements.

Those seeking a concealed-carry permit would have to complete a more extensive safety course than what's required for gun owners. Non-residents would also be able to get licenses if they meet the same standards. Open carrying of firearms would remain illegal.

The city's police chief would decide whether people have a compelling reason to carry a concealed firearm. People who have received death threats or have been the victims of domestic violence are among those who could be granted permits.

There are 3,250 registered handgun owners in the District. Mendelson has said he expects "a few hundred" people to obtain concealed-carry permits.

The bill being voted on Tuesday would be in effect for 90 days, giving the council more time to hold hearings and craft permanent legislation.