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DC gun ruling is on hold, but having an effect

WASHINGTON – Prosecutors in the District of Columbia have for now stopped charging people with carrying a handgun outside their home or business after a judge ruled a city law banning carrying a handgun unconstitutional.

Until a ruling in late July by U.S. District Judge Frederick J. Scullin Jr., city law prohibited people from carrying handguns outside their homes or businesses. Scullin threw out the city’s ban, saying it violated the Constitution’s Second Amendment, which protects the right to “keep and bear arms.” But Scullin kept his ruling from going into effect until at least October, preserving the status quo in the city and giving lawmakers time to respond with new laws.

In theory, Scullin’s order meant nothing had changed for now. People caught carrying handguns outside their homes or businesses could still be charged with a felony. In practice, however, prosecutors have for now stopped charging new cases of carrying a pistol, U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman William Miller said. Instead, he said, prosecutors are using other available weapons charges while they continue to review Scullin’s ruling.

That means that in some new cases, someone who would have faced a felony charge punishable by up to five years in prison before Scullin’s ruling may now instead face misdemeanors punishable by up to a year in jail. The ruling has also affected pistol-carrying cases that were pending at the time of Scullin’s ruling. Some are being dismissed and others delayed.

“They are still sorting out what exactly they are going to do with these cases,” said attorney Jason Kalafat, who typically represents a handful of clients with gun cases at any time.

Without the pistol-carrying charge, prosecutors handling new gun cases still have options. Those generally include two misdemeanor charges: possession of an unregistered firearm and unlawful possession of ammunition. City residents are required to register handguns, rifles and shotguns with police in order to keep them in their homes, but only about 3,000 handguns and 1,700 rifles and shotguns are registered. So when police catch someone with a gun, it’s not unusual for it to be unregistered. If the person has a criminal history, serious charges may also apply, along with any charges related to committing a crime while armed.

As for pistol-carrying cases that were pending before Scullin’s ruling, prosecutors intend to dismiss about 25 of them and the less serious misdemeanor charges may be pursued, said Ted Gest, a spokesman for the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, which handles misdemeanor gun cases. In still other cases, prosecutors have asked judges for delays.

Attorneys for the city have not said exactly how they will respond to Scullin’s ruling. So far they have asked for and received the 90-day stay putting Scullin’s ruling on hold until late October. They’ve also asked for a longer stay while the case is appealed but haven’t yet filed appeal paperwork. City lawmakers, meanwhile, will examine writing new gun legislation in response to the ruling when they return from summer recess in mid-September.

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Follow Jessica Gresko at http://twitter.com/jessicagresko

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