Washington D.C. City Councilman Marion Barry’s become the latest victim of violent crime. Barry was in his Southeast apartment this week when he was robbed at gunpoint by a group of young men. They entered his apartment, held a gun to his head, and took off with his wallet, credit cards, and cash. Barry had given the teens a few dollars earlier in the evening after they helped bring in some of his groceries. The former mayor describes the incident as “traumatic”. I’d describe it as common.
This is life in “gun free” Washington, D.C. No one is safe. Marion Barry’s a victim of a home invasion. Supreme Court Justice David Souter was assaulted while jogging last year. Teresa Heinz was mugged outside her Georgetown home. Wanda Alston, the head of the mayor’s Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Affairs was murdered in a home invasion robbery. You are not safe in Washington, D.C. No one is.
It doesn’t have to be this way, of course. Thirty years ago, our nation’s capitol was in the midst of a crime wave. The city council responded by banning handguns and requiring shotguns and rifles to be kept unloaded, dismantled, and locked away. The law abiding residents of Washington, D.C. had been disarmed, and the criminals took notice. Violent crime dipped slightly in the two years following the ban, although the murder rate actually continued to climb. By 1979, however, the violent crime rate was back above 1976 levels, and it has remained so ever since.
In the past two years, the U.S. House has passed the D.C. Personal Protection Act, which would once again allow law abiding citizens to protect themselves with a firearm in their own home. The bill has been vilified by members of the D.C. City Council and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who said the intent of the measure was to “get more children killed”. At least three children died from shootings in “gun free D.C.” in 2005. None died from shootings in nearby Fairfax County, where Virginia’s laws allow not only possession of firearms, but concealed carry as well. I’m not blaming D.C.’s firearms prohibition for the deaths of the three children, but it’s pretty clear that the laws aren’t effective in stopping criminals from arming themselves illegally.
What does stop a criminal? Evidence suggests even more than increased police patrols, the fear of an armed citizenry makes a criminal have second thoughts. A number of studies dating back to the 1980’s indicate a majority of criminals say they will not engage in a criminal act against someone they believe is armed. But who’s armed in Washington, D.C.? Only the criminals and the police. There’s a vast unarmed populace to take advantage of, and no one is safe. Not even the former mayor.