DC gun carry rights case blocked in court - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

DC gun carry rights case blocked in court

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WASHINGTON -

Washington, D.C. is the only place in the country where no one is allowed to legally carry a gun outside the home. District residents are trying to challenge the law in court, but the justice system has denied them due process. The almost five-year delay in Palmer v. District of Columbia is so extreme that some suspect political games.

In August 2009, Tom Palmer and three other D.C. residents filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court that said the total ban on carrying firearms -- open or concealed -- violated their Second Amendment rights. Alan Gura is the attorney for the Palmer case.

On Tuesday, Gura filed a second writ of mandamus with the U.S. Court of Appeals asking it to force the lower court to issue a decision. He will not speculate on the reason for the long wait, but says this is not normal.

"Delays of this nature are very uncommon -- especially when you have a case where people are claiming that their fundamental civil rights are being violated," the attorney said in an interview with Fox 5 on Friday.

Gura was also Dick Heller’s attorney in the 2008 landmark Supreme Court case that overturned the District’s 30-year total ban on handguns. After the Heller decision, D.C. technically abided by that ruling by establishing a complicated firearms registration system.

In addition, the city passed a law in 2009 that prohibited open and concealed carry of firearms, which prompted the Palmer lawsuit.

"The ban is obviously unconstitutional. I don’t think there's any doubt of that,” Mr. Gura, who represents the Second Amendment Foundation, said. "People have a right to carry a handgun for self-defense, which Heller confirmed."

The Palmer case has been in legal limbo several times. Judge Henry Kennedy was the first judge assigned to the case. He heard oral argument in Jan. 2010 but retired without issuing a ruling.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts intervened in July 2011 and reassigned this case to Judge Frederick Scullin of New York.

Even then, Judge Sculling took over a year to rehear arguments. After the judge heard from both sides in Oct. 2012, he promised that he would make a decision “within a short period of time.”

While a “short period of time” can be interpreted to mean things, a 20 month delay in issuing a district court decision is so rare that many find it suspicious.

This is the second time that Gura has asked the appeals court to intervene. After a year of waiting for Judge Sculling to issue his ruling, the lawyer filed a writ of mandamus to the appeals court. In Dec. 2013, the court denied the request, saying that the delay was not “egregious or unreasonable.” But Judge Scullin is still radio silent.

Fed up, Gura filed this second writ in which he wrote that the persistent delay is “unconscionable” and “fundamentally unfair.” (Disclosure: In the writ, Gura quoted from a column I wrote in The Washington Times titled “Justice Delayed is Justice Denied.”)

In contrast, the last state the denied carry rights -- Illinois -- went from being challenged in district court in May 2011 to giving out concealed carry permits in just two years. That even includes the six months that the legislature took to write the new laws.

Both sides in the Palmer case agree that no matter who wins at the district level, the case will be appealed, and likely ultimately the Supreme Court will be asked to hear it.

George Lyon is one of the four other plaintiffs in the Palmer case. He has legally registered guns in his D.C. home, but he can’t use them for self-defense past his front door.

“I would like to be able to make a decision when and where to have the tools to protect myself,” explained Mr. Lyon. “I may not carry a gun everywhere I go in the District of Columbia, but I may carry a gun late at night when I walk my dog or any other time I feel it’s necessary for personal protection.”

While Lyon and his fellow plaintiffs in Palmer say they have the right to bear arms, D.C. says it can outlaw gun carry because it is unique as the seat of the federal government.

The District’s political leaders and government attorneys argue that allowing people to legally have guns puts at risk the life of the president, members of Congress and Supreme Court justices -- even though all those people have armed security. They also say that the carry ban prevents crime and increases public safety.

Whether you are for or against gun control laws, the issue here is one of access to the courts when your rights have been infringed. As long as Judge Scullin refuses to rule, Americans who live in or visit the District are being denied their fundamental right to self-defense, as well as their right to due process.

Emily Miller is the chief investigative reporter for Fox 5 D.C. She is also the author of “Emily Gets Her Gun” (Regnery/2013).

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