June 27, 2022

RACISM AND HATE AND DISCRIMINATION IN THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA’S GUN POLICY: Another gun case waits in the wings.

Allen Whitaker is a resident of Washington, D.C., who holds a handgun license. In April 2019, police stopped Whitaker, who is Black and wears dreadlocks, and his male cousin at gunpoint when they were returning from a gun range with Whitaker’s daughter and girlfriend and stopped at a gas station at which a few of the other patrons got into an altercation. Noticing that Whitaker wore an empty pistol holster on his waist, the officers handcuffed the two men. They searched the vehicle as well as Whitaker and his family, found an amount of marijuana legally permissible in the District belonging to Whitaker’s girlfriend, and seized both the marijuana and Whitaker’s gun that was stored in a lockbox in the trunk. The police eventually released Whitaker and his family without charge, but they refused to return the handgun.

After applying to register a new firearm, Whitaker received notice from the Metropolitan Police Department that his gun license would be revoked. D.C. law allows the MPD to determine whether a person is a “suitable” applicant to own a handgun. The notice explained that the gas-station incident, combined with Whitaker’s misdemeanor criminal history that had been evaluated in his originally approved application for a gun license, demonstrated a “propensity for violence or instability” unsuitable for a firearm owner. The Concealed Pistol Licensing Review Board denied Whitaker’s administrative appeal. Whitaker filed suit in the D.C. Court of Appeals, which dismissed the case as moot after the MPD voluntarily reinstated Whitaker’s license mid-litigation. In Whitaker v. District of Columbia Concealed Pistol Licensing Review Board, Whitaker asks the justices to review two aspects of the appeals court’s dismissal.

On the merits, Whitaker argues that the D.C. regulation is unconstitutionally vague. The “propensity for violence or instability” standard, Whitaker says, “confers standardless discretion on the MPD to disqualify anyone [for a gun license] based on the agency’s subjective judgment.”

I agree, and the Court should, too.

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