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Could President Perry carry a gun?

Posted by on Aug 19 2011 | Executive Branch, Rick Perry, Right to carry

Chris Moody attempts to analyze the issue for The Ticket. The analysis could have been improved by reading the laws of the District of Columbia.

Moody describes D.C. as “a city that bans carrying firearms.” That’s not exactly correct. The D.C. Code generally prohibits carrying a firearm “without a license issued pursuant to District of Columbia law.” D.C. Code § 22-4504. It is true that in practice, the D.C. government virtually never issues carry licenses to citizens. However, the Code makes various exceptions to the license requirement, including that “The provisions of § 22-4504 shall not apply . . .to officers or employees of the United States duly authorized to carry a concealed pistol . . .” § 22-4505(a).

Thus President Perry could simply authorize himself to carry a concealed pistol. For good measure, he could likewise authorize the entire White House staff, or indeed every single employee of the United States government, to also carry a concealed pistol in D.C.

As the Moody article points out, President Perry could ask the D.C. police to deputize him, in order to take advantage of the D.C. law allowing the police to carry guns, but President Perry would have no practical need to ask the D.C. police to use their discretion to grant him the ability to do something he can do without their permission anyway.

UCLA’s Adam Winkler suggests that President Perry could issue an Executive Order authorizing him to carry. Executive Orders can apply solely to the Executive Branch of the federal government. An Executive Order could be  one mechanism (although certainly not the only one) by which President Perry could “duly authorize[]” gun carrying by himself or Executive Branch employees. However, if the D.C. Code did not have the exception for federal  employees, then it’s doubtful that an Executive Order could overcome a carrying ban enacted by the D.C. City Council. One might argue that since the entire D.C. city government, with its limited home rule powers granted by Congress, is part of the federal government, the President can by Executive Order negate the operation of a D.C. City Council law. However, as far as I know no President has ever tried to go so far with an Executive Order. And an Executive Order certainly cannot violate a specific congressional statute, including the statute granting partial home rule powers to the D.C. City Council. (The congressional grant of home rule actually excluded criminal law, so D.C. styles its anti-gun laws as “health” laws, and the courts have thus far let D.C. get away with it. However, even if the D.C. gun laws are arguably ultra vires, an Executive Order would not seem to be the appropriate mechanism to deal with them.)

Moody also raises the issue of the Secret Service:

The Secret Service, however, could make a very serious argument that the president shouldn’t be carrying a weapon for his own protection. Remember, a spirited debate broke out in the days leading up to President Obama’s inauguration over whether he would be forced to surrender his Blackberry for security concerns. (In the end, Obama got to keep his Blackberry, but under certain conditions.) If a Blackberry’s almost off limits, you can imagine how the Secret Service might react if the president wanted to pack a Glock.

Well, President Obama’s decision to accept some restrictions on his Blackberry was his choice, presumably made after considering the advice of the Secret Service. The President is in charge of the Secret Service, and not vice versa. The Secret Service cannot “force” him to do anything. They’re not a Praetorian Guard. So when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt refused to allow the Secret Service to drive for her, or even accompany her, as she traveled around the United States, there was nothing the Secret Service could do about it. The Secret Service did urge her to carry a concealed handgun, and learn how to use it, and she took their advice. After the assassination of President William McKinley, new President Theodore Roosevelt started carrying his own handgun for protection.

As far as we know, there is not a shred of evidence that concealed carry by either Roosevelt had any negative impact on their security. So there’s no reason to imagine that the Secret Service would have a good reason to urge President Perry not to carry a handgun. Unlike a Blackberry, a handgun does not send wireless communications which could be intercepted by foreign spies, nor does it contain a GPS device which can reveal the user’s location.

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