Judge rules DC liable for wrongful arrests under overturned gun ban
A federal judge on Wednesday found that the District of Columbia is liable for wrongfully arresting six people accused of violating its laws on carrying handguns in public.
U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth issued his opinion in a putative class-action case brought by six plaintiffs, four nonresidents and two residents of D.C., who allege they were wrongfully arrested under a combination of D.C. gun laws.
The plaintiffs argued that the combination of three gun laws in D.C. made it impossible for individuals to carry guns for the purposes of self-defense.
In his 19-page opinion, Lamberth acknowledged D.C.’s argument that there is no constitutional right to carry a firearm without requiring any permit whatsoever.
However, he wrote that that D.C. “misses the mark” with this argument, saying the District failed to support the idea that the plaintiffs would have been protected from arrest had they attempted “futile actions” like trying to obtain D.C. gun registration.
“The District fails to address the key, undisputed fact in this case. There were no actions that the plaintiffs could have taken during the time period in question that would have allowed them to carry a gun for self-defense in the District of Columbia,” wrote Lamberth.
“In sum, plaintiffs were arrested, detained, and had their guns seized under a gun control regime that completely banned carrying handguns in public. That fact is undisputed,” he added.
One of the plaintiffs is North Carolina nurse Maggie Smith, who was pulled over by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) during a traffic stop in June of 2014. According to court documents, Smith “promptly informed” the officer that she was carrying a pistol that was licensed in her home state. Smith was arrested for carrying a pistol and was held overnight in D.C. jail.
Though the charges brought against her were ultimately dropped months after she was arrested, her gun still remains in police custody.
Another plaintiff, Gerard Cassagnol of Maryland, was also arrested after being pulled over by MPD. Cassagnol informed officers that he had a firearm locked in a safe in his trunk and gave the officers the combination. He was held in D.C. jail for two nights.
Again, the charges brought against Cassagnol were ultimately dropped, but he was terminated from his job after his arrest and his gun still remains in police custody.
The three gun laws that the six plaintiffs were arrested under have all since been repealed.
William Claiborne, the attorney for the six plaintiffs, told The Washington Post that they “are very happy with the ruling, which completely vindicates their claim that they had a constitutional right to carry their handguns in public for self-defense.”
Currently in D.C., a handgun license is required by both residents and nonresidents to legally carry a handgun in the district. Open carry is prohibited in D.C. except in a few instances, such as when a gun owner is in their home or at their place of business.