On Thursday, District of Columbia Attorney General Karl A. Racine announced that he would not appeal the Wrenn v. D.C. and Grace v. D.C. cases to the Supreme Court, accepting a Circuit Court ruling that Washington, D.C.'s concealed carry law is unconstitutional.
When the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia refused to issue an en banc hearing to potentially reinstate D.C.'s strict concealed carry law, all eyes turned to AG Racine to see what he would do.
The District only had two options: obey the Circuit Court's ruling or appeal the case all the way to the Supreme Court. After consulting with District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser and others within city government, Racine announced that he would not risk appealing the case to the nation's highest court.
Public safety is, and always has been, my paramount concern. I continue to believe the District's 'good reason' requirement is a common-sense, and constitutional, gun regulation. However, we must reckon with the fact that an adverse decision by the Supreme Court could have wide ranging negative effects not just on District residents, but on the country as a whole.
In consultation with Mayor Bowser, Chairman Mendelson, Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Allen and multiple stakeholders, and after careful consideration, we reached consensus that abiding by the D.C. Circuit's ruling was the wisest course of action to protect public safety in the District and nationwide. Therefore, I have decided not to appeal to the Supreme Court."
The decision is admittedly political. If the District appealed to the Supreme Court and lost, the ruling would have affected not only Washington, D.C., but also states that have similarly restrictive concealed carry laws. In particular, those states are California, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Hawaii, Delaware, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.
The decision also marks a noteworthy change in strategy. For years, court cases challenging similar restrictive concealed carry laws have all failed. In 2013, Maryland resident Raymond Woollard appealed his challenge to his state's concealed carry law. In Maryland, applicants must prove they have a "good and substantial reason" to carry a firearm in public before they are given permission to do so. This standard is next to impossible for average citizens to meet.
The Supreme Court ultimately rejected Woollard's case, leaving Maryland's restrictive concealed carry law in place. Similar cases challenging laws in California, New Jersey, and New York were all shot down by the Supreme Court in recent years, suggesting that a majority of Supreme Court Justices were content with leaving these laws in place.
The addition of Justice Neil Gorsuch to the bench this year, however, made the Supreme Court less predictable. That, apparently, was too much of a risk for Washington, D.C.'s city government.
What does this mean? Well, in the short term, the D.C. Circuit Court's decision will not lead to a nationwide precedent. However, since this decision is now locked in, the country is now living under what is known as a "circuit split." That means that Appeals Courts in different areas of the country have arrived at different conclusions on whether the 2nd Amendment includes a right to carry a firearm in public. The result is that the 2nd Amendment is being interpreted differently in Washington, D.C., than it currently is in Maryland.
Traditionally, the Supreme Court seeks to resolve circuit splits whenever possible, especially when it comes to questions regarding the Bill of Rights. While neither Wrenn v. D.C. nor Grace v. D.C. will be the case that decides the future of the 2nd Amendment nationwide, the next similar case appealed to the Supreme Court likely will.
Now that the District has chosen not to appeal, it will have to go back to the drawing boards and craft a new concealed carry law that does not force applicants to prove they have a "good reason" to need to carry a firearm. However, Washington, D.C., does not have home rule. That means that all new legislation must be approved by the United States Congress before it can go into effect. That means that in order for Washington, D.C., to obey the D.C. Circuit Court's ruling, they will have to draft a new law that will pass through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and Senate.
The District City Council does have the ability to pass an emergency bill that can go into effect without Congressional approval, however, anything passed through this emergency procedure can only last for 90 days. After that, the Council would have to get Congressional approval in order to comply with the ruling.