With the president and many other voices on the right urging Trump supporters to gather in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday to protest Congress’ acceptance of the Electoral College vote, local officials in our nation’s capitol are reacting with a clampdown on constitutional rights.
— Jesse Burkett-Hall (@BurkettHall) January 3, 2021
As of this morning the carry ban is in effect, and will extend through this Thursday. It’s unclear at the moment just how much of the District city officials have decided to place off-limits to those exercising their right to carry, but Fox 5 in D.C. reports that similar signs have been posted throughout the downtown area.
Here’s what the section of the D.C. code cited on the signs actually says:
No person holding a license shall carry a pistol in the following locations or under the following circumstances
A gathering or special event open to the public; provided, that no licensee shall be criminally prosecuted unless:
(A) The organizer or the District has provided notice prohibiting the carrying of pistols in advance of the gathering or special event and by posted signage at the gathering or special event; or
(B) The licensee has been ordered by a law enforcement officer to leave the area of the gathering or special event and the licensee has not complied with the order;
As D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser proclaimed, “District law prohibits anyone from carrying a firearm within 1,000 feet of any First Amendment activity.”
That seems like an awfully big loophole that makes it incredibly easy for local officials to ban the legal carrying of firearms, which is already fairly restricted in the federal district. Keep in mind, in order to legally carry in Washington, D.C. you must possess a valid D.C. concealed carry license, since the District doesn’t recognize any licenses from other jurisdictions. In addition, federal property, including the National Mall and monuments, are already gun-free zones under District law.
I’ve also seen some comments on a pro-Trump message board from folks who are talking about openly carrying instead of trying to carry concealed, but that’s a non-starter. The District bans all open carrying of firearms, even if you possess a D.C.-issued carry permit.
Do you lose your constitutional right to keep and bear arms just because you’re exercising your First Amendment right to peacefully protest? While I’m not an attorney, that legal rationale seems extremely dubious. I’d love to see the ban on carrying at public gatherings challenged in court, but any case involving the current restrictions isn’t going to be resolved before Wednesday. For those planning on traveling to D.C. to protest this week, I’d advise you leave your firearms behind unless you’re willing to serve as a legal guinea pig in a case testing the District’s statute. Enforcement of the gun ban may be a challenge for the D.C. police, given the anticipated crowd size, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try.