Gun Owners Battle D.C.'s Reluctance to Issue Concealed Carry Permits

Matthew Grace, a Washington, D.C., financial adviser and owner of a real-estate management company, could be the catalyst for a Supreme Court showdown on Second Amendment rights.

Grace and the Pink Pistols have sued the District of Columbia over its refusal to issue Grace a concealed-carry permit for his handgun.

Grace and the Pink Pistols are not waging this battle alone.

Led by Arizona’s Mark Brnovich, 16 state attorneys general have signed on to an amicus brief backing Grace and his effort to get a concealed carry permit in the District of Columbia.

Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming have all joined the Aug. 12 brief.

An extensive list of law enforcement organizations including the Western States Sheriffs' Association and the Law Enforcement Association of America have also signed on to the amicus brief, along with Gun Owners of America, Gun Owners Foundation and the Heller Foundation.

Grace was denied a concealed-carry permit in D.C. even though he was allowed to carry a concealed weapon in Virginia and Utah. Grace had also completed the training required by the Metropolitan Police Department to carry a gun outside his home.

On top of that, his wife was robbed on a public street, and shell casings were lying about in front of Grace’s home. But District of Columbia officials decided Grace did not “demonstrate a good reason to fear injury” or demonstrate “a proper reason” to have a concealed-carry permit.

That left Brnovich and the other AGs on Grace’s side wondering, what does a guy have to do to carry a concealed weapon in D.C.? Get shot?

Yeah, pretty much that is it.

The District of Columbia, still getting over the shock of a court ruling that wiped out its ban on handguns, sees issuing as few concealed-carry permits as possible as a matter of public safety.

"The district contends that the equation is simple — the more firearms carried equals mayhem and chaos, regardless whether the individuals carrying weapons are law-abiding citizens," according to the amicus brief signed by Keith Miller with the Arizona Attorney General's Office.

"To the contrary," the brief continues, "more firearms — when carried by law-abiding, licensed citizens — do not lead to more crime. This is due, in part, to the fact that private citizens who acquire licenses to carry firearms publicly are, by definition, law-abiding.”

Grace isn’t the only D.C. resident who has been denied a concealed-carry permit. District residents have been allowed to apply for concealed-carry permits since 2014 after a court threw out the city’s ban on carrying handguns in public. So far, fewer than 100 of the permits have been granted.

So if its mission was keeping guns away from law-abiding citizens, D.C.'s "good reason" provision worked.

But U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Leon found it to be unconstitutional.

“The District’s ‘good reason’ requirement infringes on Second Amendment activity because it does not allow individuals to obtain a license to carry a concealed firearm in public for legitimate self-defense purposes, included for protecting themselves from non-particularized threats faced by the general community and from unanticipated, suddenly arising threats,” Leon wrote.

However, the District of Columbia also argued that if someone never had to defend his life with a gun, there was no harm in denying a CCW license.

Leon called that “poppycock” and said it showed D.C. officials “once again, sadly miss the point.”

Gwendolyn Patton, first speaker of the Pink Pistols, said the “good reason” clause was a “travesty of justice from its inception.”

“It left the free exercise of an inherent human right up to bureaucrats and police officials. If your reason to carry a gun was deemed insufficient — if, by their measure, your reason to carry a gun wasn’t good enough — they could deny you that right with the stroke of a pen and the thump of a rubber stamp,” Patton added.

The Office of the Attorney General-District of Columbia appealed Leon’s May 17 decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

The Office of the AG also won a full stay of Leon’s ruling from the Court of Appeals, which brought to an end a rush on the D.C. Police for CCW applications.

The Washington Times reported that in the 10 days following Leon’s ruling 85 people filed for concealed weapons permits, compared to the 61 who had applied for a permit in the past six months.

“This stay is good news for public safety in our city because it means we may continue enforcing our gun laws in full,” said AG Karl Racine in a statement. “We believe that the District’s gun laws are reasonable and necessary to ensure public safety in a dense urban area.”

“We continue to believe our ‘good reason’ requirement for a concealed-carry permit is both constitutional and in line with similar laws in New Jersey, New York, and Maryland – all of which have been upheld by federal appeals courts,” Racine added.

Oral arguments before the Court of Appeals are scheduled to begin Sept. 20.

Grace v. D.C. is only one of the CCW cases facing federal judges Karen LeCraft Henderson, Thomas B. Griffith and Stephen F. Williams that day.

They will also hear the case of Brian Wrenn, who like Grace has not been able to get a concealed-carry permit in the District of Columbia.

However, a strong case is planned by supporters of the idea that a gun owner should have to prove why he needs the weapon outside his home.

Ten other state attorneys general have lined up on the other side of the argument, filing an amicus brief for D.C.’s decision to block Grace’s CCW request.

The states of California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon and Washington support the D.C. policy, as do the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and Everytown for Gun Safety.

“Good reason” is the law in San Diego County, just as in D.C., and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in California upheld the county’s law in June.

The California Pistol & Rifle Association and five gun owners sued San Diego County claiming the county’s “may issue” permitting process violated Second Amendment gun rights.

Both sides are prepared for the long haul. They predict if the Court of Appeals in D.C. should rule against the District of Columbia in either lawsuit, the result could be a Second Amendment showdown before the U.S. Supreme Court.