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DC’s “Good Reason” CCW Requirement Trashed for Good

Adam Kraut has helped us in the past unpack legal language, and today he breaks down a win for the good guys. Read up.

District of Columbia’s “Good Reason” Requirement for a Concealed Carry Pistol License Permanently Trashed
Adam Kraut, esq

For the past 40 years, the District of Columbia (District) has tried three different times to implement major regulations relating to firearms. These attempts included
1) a total handgun ban from 1976, which was struck down in Heller I by the Supreme Court,
2) a total ban on carrying a firearm, which was cast aside by a district court in Palmer and most recently
3) a law confining the ability to carry a handgun in public to those who could show a special need for self-defense.

The District’s code stated that “The Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department [may issue a license] if it appears that the applicant has good reason to fear injury to his or her person or property or has any other proper reason for carrying a pistol, and that he or she is a suitable person to be so licensed.” Much like other states, such as California, New Jersey, New York and Maryland, the District of Columbia required applicants to show that they had a “good reason” to be granted a license. In essence, the issuing authority could arbitrarily find reasons why an individual did not show “good cause” or “good reason” or create a standard so high that it could deny almost everyone a license.

The Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department (Chief) was to implement rules to establish criteria whether a person had demonstrated “good reason”. The Code required that in demonstrating “good reason” to fear injury, an applicant must “at a minimum [show] of a special need for self-protection distinguishable from the general community as supported by evidence of specific threats or previous attacks that demonstrate a special danger to the applicant’s life.”

Applicant’s who attempted to apply under the “other proper reason for carrying” were left to show that they were employed in a manner that required the carrying of cash or other valuable objects transported on their person. The regulations implemented by the Chief also gave individuals the ability to apply if they had a close relative who was so physically or mentally incapacitated that they could not defend themselves. In short, thousands of law abiding citizens would never be able to qualify.


Brian Wrenn, the Second Amendment Foundation, Inc. (SAF), and two other members of the SAF brought suit against the District of Columbia seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent the District of Columbia from enforcing the “good reason” provision. In a separate case, Matthew Grace and the Pink Pistols sued the District of Columbia, also seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent the enforcement of the “good reason” provision. The District Court ultimately denied the preliminary injunction request in Wrenn, but granted it in Grace. As a result, the parties appealed where the Court of Appeals consolidated the two cases and heard them together.

Does “Good Reason” Impinge on a “Core” Second Amendment Right?

The Court was left to determine whether the “Good Reason” requirement implemented by the District of Columbia impeded on a “core” Second Amendment right. The Court analyzed the Heller decision, noting that “the fact that the need for self-defense is most pressing in the home doesn’t mean that self-defense at home is the only right at the Amendment’s core.” It further found support that based on the Second Amendment’s text of “bear” arms, that it was a more “natural to view the Amendment’s core as including a law-abiding citizen’s right to carry common firearms for self-defense beyond the home.” After reviewing relevant nineteenth-century cases, the Court concluded that they also assumed the importance of carrying a firearm as well as possessing one. As the carrying of a firearm is a “core” Second Amendment right, the “good reason” law burdens the ability of an individual to exercise it.

Into the Weeds We Go

The District argued that whatever the right to carry might cover, it would not include densely populated or urban areas because the English, who had a right to bear arms, had for centuries been denied the ability to carry in crowded areas. As similar laws had found their way to the colonies (the future United States) by the 1700s and then to states generally by the mid-to-late 1800s, the District contended the right codified by the Second Amendment did not apply to urban areas.

The Court noted that such an argument pulled the parties, the Court and a few scholars into dense historical weeds. While both sides advanced arguments and found support to counter the others, the Court took a simpler approach to reach a determination.

Finding that the original law took effect in 1328, the Court quickly dispensed with the District’s argument noting that “in light of Heller I, we can sidestep the historical debate on how the first Northampton law might have hindered Londoners in the Middle Ages. Common-law rights developed over time, and American commentaries spell out what early cases imply: the mature right captured by the Amendment was not hemmed in by longstanding bans on carrying in densely populated areas. Its protections today don’t give out inside the Beltway.” (emphasis added).

Ye Olde English Surety Laws

On its last leg, the District argued that old English surety laws excluded carrying a firearm from the core of the Second Amendment. “These laws provided that if Oliver carried a pistol and Thomas said he reasonably feared that Oliver would injure him or breach the peace, Oliver had to post a bond to be used to cover any damage he might do, unless he proved he had reason to fear injury to his person or family or property.”

The Court rejected this absurd position, explaining that surety laws did not deny a responsible person the ability to carry unless he showed a special need for self defense. In fact, under surety laws, everyone started out with a robust right to carry for their self defense. It was only if they were reasonably accused that their ability to carry was burdened. In other words, a “showing of special need did not expand carrying for the responsible; it shrank burdens on the carrying by the (allegedly) reckless.”

After reviewing the text of the Second Amendment, applying Heller I’s reasoning and examining key early sources, the Court concluded that “the individual right to carry common firearms, beyond the home for self-defense—even in densely populated areas, even for those lacking special self-defense needs—falls within the core of the Second Amendment’s protections.”


He Said, She Said

Other circuit courts have disagreed on the application of the law, finding that burdens on carrying firearms only triggers intermediate scrutiny, since the right to carry requires less protection that the right to possess. Intermediate scrutiny requires that the challenged law further an important government interest in a manner that is substantially related to that interest.

The Second Circuit reasoned that the right to bear arms must count for less than the right to keep arms since the right to bear has been regulated more stringently. Likewise, the Fourth Circuit has concluded that as conduct outside of the home is examined, firearms rights have always been more limited. The Third Circuit relied on the reasoning set forth by the Second and Fourth Circuits to conclude that a “good reason” law should be subject to intermediate scrutiny. The Ninth Circuit, in its en banc Peruta decision, determined that because outright bans on concealed carry have been upheld, “good reason” provisions must be constitutional.

Fortunately, the Court saw the error in the other circuits’ ways. Quoting from the Ninth Circuit’s panel decision in Peruta, it proclaimed “the Second, Third and Fourth Circuits…declined to undertake a complete historical analysis of the scope and nature of the Second Amendment right outside the home…As a result, they misapprehend both the nature of the Second Amendment right and the implications of state laws that prevent the vast majority of responsible, law-abiding citizens from carrying in public for lawful self-defense purposes…[They] failed to comprehend that carrying weapons in public for the lawful purpose of self defense is a central component of the right to bear arms.” The Court went on to note that conclusion was shared by the Seventh Circuit, the only other circuit court that looked at the relevant history through the Heller I interpretation.

Scrutiny, You Say?

In determining whether to apply a test using intermediate scrutiny to determine whether the law was invalid, the Court began with an analysis of Heller I to see why total bans were invalid in the first place. The Court reasoned that it would be hard to believe that the Heller court would have gone easier on a law banning possession by everyone but a small minority with special needs, when it had declined to apply any tier of scrutiny in the review of a ban on possession by almost everyone.

The Court determined that “[a]t a minimum…the Second Amendment must enable armed self-defense by commonly situated citizens: those who possess common levels of need and pose only common levels of risk.” Finding the Second Amendment allowed citizens the ability to carry common arms in self defense, it reasoned that the District’s “good reason” law barred most from exercising the right by its very design. As such, under Heller I, it is appropriate to strike down such “total ban[s]” without engaging in an analysis of which level of scrutiny applies because none of them would allow for the total destruction of an enumerated constitutional right.

That’s All Folks

Recapping its findings, the Court concluded that “ [a]t the Second Amendment’s core lies the right of responsible citizens to carry firearms for personal self-defense beyond the home….the Amendment’s core at a minimum shields the typically situated citizen’s ability to carry common arms generally. The District’s good-reason law is necessarily a total ban on exercises of that constitutional right for most D.C. residents.”

Rather than granting a preliminary injunction and sending the case back to the district court to determine on the merits, the Court determined that such action would waste judicial resources since the “good reason’ law would be invalidated under Heller I. As such, it vacated the orders issued from the district court and remanded the case with instructions to enter permanent injunctions against the enforcement of the “good reason” provision. Simply put, an individual no longer has to show “good reason” to receive a license in the District of Columbia (once the District Court issues an order). They do, however, have to comply with the other requirements laid out to get one.

Adam Kraut
Hometown: West Chester, PA
Personally owned firearms: Mix of shotguns, rifles, and handguns. I love my AR-15s; I swear they're reproducing in the safe.
EDC: Glock 19 in a PHLster Skeleton Gen 2, Snake Eater Tactical IWB magazine pouch, Boxer Tactical Zenith Belt, Benchmade Griptillian
Favorite Passage in the USC: 16 U.S.C. § 1a-7b
Favorite Film: Blazing Saddles
Last Book Read: The Founders' Second Amendment by Stephen Halbrook
Achievements: Eagle Scout
Instagram: @theadamkraut
Twitter: @Kraut4NRA

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