A recent ruling by a federal judge that struck down certain provisions of Washington D.C.'s concealed carry law as "likely unconstitutional" in the case of Grace v. District of Columbia has spurred on a needed conversation on the topic of firearms rights for the private citizen.
For legal context, the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008 affirmed the Constitutional right of the private individual to own a firearm for use in legal self-defense in such federal enclaves as Washington D.C. This right was acknowledged to extend to state residents in the McDonald vs. Chicago decision of 2010, with the Court stating that legally owned and used handguns are viable for personal self-defense.
Concurrent with the Heller and McDonald decisions, there has been a pattern of loosening concealed carry permitting restrictions in many states across the country. These permits allow citizens to carry a loaded firearm concealed on their person for the purposes of self-defense, and have become increasingly easy to obtain for the law-abiding citizen in recent years. Many states, such as Ohio, have modernized the training requirements for citizens to become lawfully armed, with the Buckeye State modifying the required training time from twelve hours down to eight and permitting hybrid training.
Other states, such as Arizona and West Virginia, have abolished all training or permitting requirements altogether, allowing citizens to carry a concealed firearm as long as they are legally allowed to possess it and are not in a prohibited area. Some states (and territories such as D.C.) have retained laws and related policy that make it a challenge for the average citizen to carry a handgun for self-defense. While no states remain that have a "no issue" policy (consistent with Heller and McDonald), many maintain a "may issue" policy, meaning that the applicant for a permit must prove a need for self-defense. "May issue" states such as New Jersey and Maryland restrict permitting to the extent that permits are very rarely held by private individuals. Washington, D.C. holds a similar restriction to its neighbor Maryland, requiring an applicant to prove an emergent need for a permit, such as having a job that requires transportation of cash or other valuables.
Key to permitting requirements are each state's laws concerning the training needed to apply for a permit. There are five major camps on the issue. The first type are states such as Arizona, which have no required permit (sometimes called "Constitutional Carry") and thus there is no required training. The second type of state includes those which require a permit, but no training, such as Indiana and Georgia. The third type are states such as Virginia, Iowa, and Oregon, which allow the required training to be held entirely online, as long as certain requirements are met. The fourth type of states are those such as Ohio and several other states, which allow for hybrid training, meaning that a portion of it can be done online, leaving live range fire and other material to be completed in-person. The fifth type of the remaining states require entirely in-person courses, although most do not place restrictions on the content or quality of them.
The recent Grace decision by U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon calls D.C.'s restrictive permitting policy into question, citing it as "likely unconstitutional," and paving the way for an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, on behalf of the nation's capital. At the core of the argument is the applicability of the Constitutional right to the private individual's ability to carry a firearm on his or her person while outside of their home, and if states have the right to provide significant restrictions that throttle back this right through restrictive permitting laws and policies.
Central to the conversation are two primary notions. The first is the legality of a highly restrictive permitting policy, which will be fought out in the courts, assuming an appeal is granted. The second is one that private citizens will debate, namely the merits of firearms as defensive tools for the individual. Both will shape policy, as future court decisions shape interpretation of law, and voters elect representatives that echo their own sentiments on gun ownership and usage.
While the grand debate continues to play out in the media, the most important conversations are un-proctored. They happen on social media, in personal conversations at work, in classrooms, and at home. It is not the goal of this article to shape opinions about the debate, but rather to inform the debaters on the underlying dynamics, in an effort to make the conversations useful. The conversations need to happen, and they also need to move the debate forward.