WASHINGTON : A federal judge has ruled that a ban on citizens carrying handguns in public in the US capital Washington DC is unconstitutional.

In a 19-page opinion, Judge Frederick Scullin on Saturday ruled that ‘there is no longer any basis on which this Court can conclude that the District of Columbia’s total ban on the public carrying of ready-to-use handguns outside the home is constitutional under any level of scrutiny.

 ‘Therefore,’ Scullin wrote, ‘the Court finds that the District of Columbia’s complete ban on the carrying of handguns in public is unconstitutional.’

It is unclear whether the defendants - the District of Columbia as represented by Police Chief Cathy Lanier - will appeal the ruling.

The lawsuit plaintiffs include Tom Palmer, a Washington resident who was denied a permit to openly carry a handgun for self-defense, and the Second Amendment Foundation, Inc., a gun rights advocacy group. Currently 44 of the 50 US states allow people to openly carry handguns. In his ruling Scullin made reference to a 2008 US Supreme Court case, District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the plaintiff argued that the city’s ban on firearm ownership - one of the strictest in the nation - was unconstitutional.

In a 5-4 decision the court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, Dick Anthony Heller, a local police officer who wanted to have a private weapon at home.

Americans for years have been attempting to balance the rights in the Second Amendment to the US Constitution with the authority of local officials to control gun use and ownership. The Second Amendment, approved in 1791, reads: ‘A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.’

Much of the debate, handled in court cases over the years, has been over what authority local, state and federal officials have in regulating and controlling firearms. Washington DC is a unique case because the US capital has an elected mayor and city council, but no voting representation in Congress.

Also, Congress has ultimate authority over the city’s budget and can even overturn local laws. The city passed strict gun laws - now overturned - in 1975 to combat a soaring homicide rate. By the 1990s Washington was one of the deadliest cities in the country, in part because of a crack cocaine epidemic. Violent crime however has since plummeted compared to other major US cities.

Washington is also wedged between the states of Virginia, which allows people to openly carry a gun, and Maryland, which has stricter rules on gun ownership. In a recent spending bill the Republican-controlled House on July 16 approved rolling back the city’s decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana as well as its limits on gun use. The final bill however still must be negotiated with the White House and the Senate.