The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Thursday denied a petition for a hearing from the full court after a three-judge panel declared portions of Washington, D.C.'s gun-carry law unconstitutional in July.
"D.C. Circuit denies en banc petition in Wrenn v. D.C.!" Alan Gura, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case, said on Twitter. "On to #SCOTUS?"
Wrenn v. D.C. is the latest in a long series of challenges to the city's strict gun laws. The case centers around the city's gun-carry law, put in place after the previous ban on all gun-carry was declared unconstitutional, which allows city officials to deny a permit application based on whether they believe the applicant has a "good reason" for obtaining one. The plaintiffs complained that in practice this has resulted in very few gun-carry permits being issued in the city, with only 126 permits issued as of July 2017, and said the restriction is an unconstitutional infringement on their Second Amendment rights.
In a 2-1 ruling, the three-judge appeals court panel agreed with the plaintiffs.
"We are bound to leave the District as much space to regulate as the Constitution allows—but no more. Just so, our opinion does little more than trace the boundaries laid in 1791 and flagged in Heller I," Judge Thomas Griffith wrote for the majority. "And the resulting decision rests on a rule so narrow that good-reason laws seem almost uniquely designed to defy it: that the law-abiding citizen’s right to bear common arms must enable the typical citizen to carry a gun."
Washington, D.C., disagreed with the ruling and defended their gun-carry law by asking the full appeals court to hear the case.
"The District's requirement that those requesting concealed-carry permits must have a ‘good reason' for doing so is virtually identical to rules in other cities and states—requirements that four other federal appeals courts have left in place," Racine said in an August statement. "We at the Office of Attorney General believe our common-sense gun rules are very much in line with Supreme Court precedent on the Second Amendment, which is why we have asked the full D.C. Circuit to reconsider the earlier 2-1 ruling by a panel of that court."
On Thursday, the appeals court declined to hear the case again before the full court when no judge requested a vote on the potential hearing.
Washington, D.C., said it is deciding whether or not to appeal the case to the Supreme Court but has advised the Metropolitan Police Department to continue enforcing the "good reason" clause until the appeals court orders otherwise.
"We are disappointed by the full D.C. Circuit’s decision not to rehear our case," Attorney General Racine said in a statement. "As we review options for next steps in consultation with the Mayor, the Council and the Metropolitan Police Department, our primary concern will be ensuring public safety through reasonable gun laws."
Gun-rights activists celebrated the court's decision.
The National Rifle Association, which filed a brief in support of the plaintiffs, said the decision was a win for law-abiding D.C. residents.
"We applaud the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals for reaffirming the rights of ordinary, law-abiding citizens to carry firearms to protect themselves and their families in the District of Columbia," Chris Cox, Executive Director of the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action, said in a statement. "The District’s draconian restrictions on core Second-Amendment rights are out of step with the mainstream protections in the rest of the country, and as the D.C. Circuit's opinion shows, they are equally out of step with our Nation’s traditions and fundamental law."
"Ten years ago, Washington, D.C.’s political leadership tried to extinguish Second Amendment rights before the Supreme Court," Gura told the Washington Free Beacon. "The result was D.C. v. Heller, a tremendous victory for the rights of all Americans. With the court of appeals again confirming the people’s right to bear arms, Washington, D.C.’s politicians must once again ask themselves whether it makes sense to keep resisting our fundamental rights."
"This is another landmark legal victory for the Second Amendment Foundation," Alan Gottlieb, the group's founder, told the Free Beacon. The Second Amendment Foundation is one of the plaintiffs in the case.
The Metropolitan Police Department did not immediately return requests for comment.
Update 9:00 p.m.: This post has been updated with comment from the NRA and the attorney general.