Jon Sanders

The city of Washington, D.C., wants the Supreme Court to reverse an appeals court's decision to overturn its ban on private ownership of handguns. That pesky Second Amendment is involved. It's too bad D.C. doesn't approach the problem of its citizens being harmed by gun violence (even though guns are banned) the way it does the problem of citizens being harmed by contracting HIV.

First, about the gun ban. In March, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, citing the Second Amendment, ruled 2-1 against the city's ban, which allowed only active and retired law enforcement officers to own handguns, and it also frowned upon the city's law mandating trigger locks or disassembly of rifles and shotguns in private homes.

In appealing to the Supreme Court, District Attorney General Linda Singer called the city's ban "eminently reasonable" and stated, "Whatever right the Second Amendment guarantees, it does not require the District to stand by while its citizens die."

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) declared, "The only possible outcome of more handguns in the home is more violence." Obviously the mayor and the city's leadership equate the presence of a handgun with an irresistible urge to use it.

Speaking of irresistible urges, D.C. isn't standing by while its citizens contract HIV, either, although its approach is entirely different. The district seeks to protect citizens from death via gun by banning or disabling guns. Delicacy prevents making the analogy explicit, but the tactic adopted by the city to protect citizens from death via sexually transmitted disease is to give away free condoms.

The free condoms are imported from China, emblazoned with the municipally sanctioned double entendre "Coming Together to Stop HIV in D.C." and offered in bowls displayed in laundromats, restaurants, and other locations. Rather than a cumbersome and unenforceable ban on unsafe behavior, the city opts to promote less-unsafe behavior without caveats. Why not avoid the constitutional problem altogether by adopting a similar approach with respect to guns?

What would be so laughable about having bowls on display in restaurants, convenience stores, laundromats and other locations that would offer free rubber bullets? If the only conceivable outcome (conceivable to a D.C. official, that is) of a privately owned handgun is the violent use of it, why not protect people from that violence by giving them rubber bullets?

Jon Sanders

Jon Sanders is associate director of research at the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh, N.C.