DC Gun Laws & DC vs Heller

district of Columbia

Decades ago, the District of Columbia was infested with widespread drug abuse and gun violence. In an effort to curb the increasing violence, the city council enacted the Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975. The strict gun ban prevented residents from owning a gun unless it was registered before 1976. If a D.C. citizen did have a gun within their home, it was forbidden to be assembled and loaded. The only alternative was to place a trigger lock on the firearm. This ban was regarded as one of the toughest in the entire country and it faced much controversy from supporters of gun-ownership rights. Residents who were up in arms over the gun ban claimed they had no means of protection inside their home.


Despite the authoritative gun ban in the nation’s capital, violence continued to rise in the city. The homicide rate steadily increased well into the 1980s and 1990s, and D.C. would soon become labeled the “murder capital” in the United States. The crack epidemic and gun violence played its toll on D.C. citizens, and many sought protection to defend themselves.


The strict gun law would be in effect until the turn of the century when Robert A. Levy organized a lawsuit against the city for violation of the 2nd Amendment. The group of residents selected for the lawsuit all sought, for various reasons, to obtain a gun for protection inside their home. Although the case was thrown out by the District Court, the reversal decision by the Court of Appeals would send the case down a path directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court’s decision to rule the Firearms Control Regulations Act unconstitutional would set a precedent that would reshape gun laws in D.C.


In response to the Supreme Court’s decision, the city enacted a number of new regulations that made it difficult for citizens to obtain a permit for a gun. The Firearms Registration Emergency Amendment Act of 2008 was proposed immediately after the ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller to tighten restrictions on gun ownership. The vast revisions to the city’s gun laws in wake of the abolishment of the previous gun ban did not sit well with many citizens. Some of the registration procedures included taking a five hour training class and paying substantial fees.  


The extensive registration process, background checks, ban on assault weapons, ban on large-capacity firearms, and other red tape when registering for a gun led to another lawsuit against the city. Ironically, Heller would be the one to sue the city again in regards to the city’s restrictive gun control laws. Heller would not be successful this time around as the District Court ruled that the new gun regulations were in accordance with the Supreme Court’s decision.


In response to constant complaints that the registration process was too difficult, the city attempted to ease the registration requirements. Despite the relaxed registration procedures, there was still a dispute over a citizen’s right to carry a gun outside their home. The city’s ban on gun possession in public would come to an end in 2014 after it was ruled unconstitutional. Shortly thereafter, the city passed a strict concealed-carry permit. Citizens could apply for a concealed-carry permit, but they had to provide a legitimate reason to need it and many public locations were off limits. Another lawsuit would face the city as residents claimed the law made the concealed-carry permit registration process too difficult. The law was ruled unconstitutional and the registration process to obtain a concealed-carry permit became easier for D.C. residents.


A number of restrictions remain in place today to obtain a concealed-carry permit, such as a training course and a background check, but they have become less restrictive compared to years past.  


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