Appeals court hears arguments in DC gun case, city attorney argues judge overstepped authority

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WASHINGTON — A federal judge who halted enforcement of a strict District of Columbia gun law didn't have authority to rule on the case, a city lawyer argued to a federal appeals court Friday.

The city's lawyer told a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that the judge in the case, Judge Frederick J. Scullin Jr., overstepped his authority when he halted the law's enforcement in May and that his decision should be set aside. A lawyer for a group challenging the law disagreed.

The city has been embroiled in lawsuits over its strict gun laws for years. A 2008 Supreme Court ruling struck down the city's decades-long ban on handguns, and the city rewrote its gun law in response, allowing people to have handguns for self-defense in the home but not to carry them in public.

Residents and others sued over the new law, and Judge Scullin, a judge who presided over federal court cases in New York, was ultimately assigned to oversee the case. In 2014, Scullin struck down the city's ban on carrying handguns outside the home. The city again rewrote its laws, allowing residents to carry a gun law outside the home but only under narrow circumstances.

Another lawsuit was filed over the rewritten law, which requires that to carry a gun a person must show a "good reason to fear injury to his or her person or property" or another "proper reason for carrying a pistol." Earlier this year, Scullin issued a preliminary injunction requiring the city to halt the rewritten law's enforcement.

During Friday's oral arguments, which lasted about 20 minutes, the city's lawyer, Loren AliKhan, told the three-judge panel that Scullin had been specifically assigned 10 District of Columbia cases. Those cases included the one in which Scullin ruled that the city's ban on carrying handguns outside the home was unconstitutional. But the list did not include the latest case in which Scullin halted the rewritten gun law's enforcement, AliKhan said.

A lawyer for the group challenging the rewritten law, Alan Gura, argued that because the second case was related to the first one it was Scullin's duty to take the case and appropriate for him to rule.

The three judges who heard the case Friday will issue a written decision at a later date.

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