The simmering legal battle over the District's restrictive concealed carry law has drawn in attorneys general from various states and advocacy groups on both sides of the gun control debate, raising the profile of a case that could reshape the legal landscape over how far cities and states can go in regulating the carrying of guns in public.
Last week, the attorneys general of Maryland, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New York filed a brief in defense of D.C.'s concealed carry law, alongside gun control groups like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and local organizations D.C. Appleseed, D.C. Vote and the League of Women Voters.
At the same time, the National Rifle Association has given notice that it will file its own brief in opposition to the law, which was passed by the D.C. Council last year and restricts who qualifies for a concealed carry permit and where they can carry their gun if they receive a permit.
In May, a federal judge tossed out a key provision of the law requiring that applicants show a "good reason" for getting a concealed carry permit, namely that they prove they face a personal threat or work in an industry that requires them to carry cash or other valuables on a daily basis. The U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. stayed that ruling, and will hear arguments on the case in November.
Gun-rights advocates say the law is so restrictive that it violates the Second Amendment's protection of the individual right to keep and bear arms. In his May ruling, Judge Frederick Scullin agreed, writing that the good reason requirement "makes it impossible for the overwhelming majority of law-abiding citizens to obtain licenses to carry handguns in public for self-defense, thereby depriving them of their Second Amendment right to bear arms."
But D.C. officials argue that nothing in the Second Amendment stops them from restricting who can carry a concealed handgun — and where they can carry it. Those restrictions, city officials say, are even more important in the nation's capital, which plays host to visitors, protests, elected officials, and dignitaries.
In a brief filed on behalf of seven states, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh says that while those states may not agree with every restriction D.C. has imposed, they believe the city should be given wide latitude in determining its own gun laws.
"The states have each taken different approaches to addressing the problem of firearm violence based on determinations about what measures will best meet the needs of their citizens," he writes. "They join this brief not because they necessarily believe the District of Columbia has chosen the optimal policy... but because they believe that the challenged regulations represent a policy choice that the District is constitutionally free to adopt."
D.C. officials say they modeled their law after Maryland's, which has withstood legal challenge. But gun advocates say that 42 states have "shall-issue" licensing regimes, leaving D.C. in the minority of "may-issue" jurisdictions.
The city's spike in crime has also prompted national groups on both sides of the gun debate to weigh in. In July, the NRA opined that as long as the restrictive concealed carry law remains in effect, the "criminals of Washington, D.C. will continue to enjoy their decisive advantage over the law-abiding."
But last month, Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said that the uptick in violence in D.C. should highlight the need for gun control measure.
"Everyday, 89 people die in America from gun violence. We can stop this by keeping guns out of dangerous hands. The nation’s capital should serve as an example of how to stop gun violence, not as a symbol of the growing epidemic," he said.