Tom Palmer, the Gay Man that Helped Secure Gun Rights

Tom Palmer

Many Libertarians are familiar with the Supreme Court case Heller v DC which affirmed the individual right to own a firearm guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment. Fewer people are familiar with Palmer v DC, which overturned the last ban on concealed carry in the United States, and could set the stage for national recognition of bearing arms and not just keeping arms.

Tom Palmer is a gay man and a gun owner; after a “gay-bashing” assault in 1982 that he broke up with a pistol, he’s become an activist in the gun rights community. As the president of Pink Pistols in Atlanta, I stand firm by our motto “Armed Queers Don’t Get Bashed,” and believe Palmer would feel the same way.

For those unfamiliar with the strict firearm licensing standards of Washington DC, prior to 2008’s Heller decision, of which Palmer was a plaintiff, the District hadn’t allowed the ownership or registration of any handguns since 1976, and required shotguns and rifles to be kept in a non-firing condition (either with a trigger lock or disassembled). Even following the overturn of this law under Heller, DC maintained strict regulations on which handguns could be registered, magazine capacity limits, and completely forbade the carry of firearms outside the home for anyone other than law enforcement.

The Palmer case argued that the Second Amendment applies outside the home, and that a process to lawfully carry a firearm for self defense was constitutionally required. In 2014, the first in a series of rulings found in favor of Palmer, and mandated Washington DC begin issuing concealed carry permits for the first time, albeit under a restrictive “may-issue” standard that required a strict “good reason” statement for applicants, and permitted arbitrary denials by the police department. 

Having been the victim of a past hate crime assault, and a high profile activist, Palmer likely would have met the strict “good reason.” But Wrenn v DC (2017) cited Palmer, and completely invalidated the “good cause” requirement. The conflict among the appellate courts (District 9 ruled that “good issue” clauses were constitutional in Pena v Lindley last year) may signify a move toward the Supreme Court, which seems willing to take on gun cases (hearing New York State Rifle and Gun Association v. City of New York later this year). If our right to carry gets a hearing in the highest court in the land, we have a gay man to thank for it.

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