Democrats are hoping that gun control won't be an issue in next year's presidential election. Gun control is a loser at the polls, and Democrats know it, even if they are loath to admit it publicly. Now, along comes Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) to put a fly in the ointment by introducing a bill that puts gun control back in the spotlight and Democrats on the spot. Hatch's bill would repeal the District of Columbia's gun control law, one of the nation's toughest.
In 1976, the Washington, D.C., city council made it illegal for city residents to own guns. The new law required anyone who owned a legally registered gun to bring the firearm into the Metropolitan police headquarters to re-register it or face future prosecution. At the time, I owned a revolver, which I had purchased after my husband was mugged in broad daylight, hit over the head with a two-by-four in front of our then 7-year-old son. We lived in a D.C. neighborhood that, while not among the city's highest crime areas, nonetheless had been plagued by break-ins and several rapes within blocks of our home.
I'll never forget the day I took my handgun downtown to re-register it under the new ordinance. The line stretched for several city blocks around the police headquarters and down toward Constitution Avenue. I was six months pregnant with our second child. My ankles were swollen, the sun and humidity were unbearable, and the gun -- a .357 Magnum -- weighed heavily in my purse. After waiting in line for a couple of hours and making little progress toward the police station, I gave up and went home. I worried all night that, with the new gun law's effective date just days away, I was about to become a felon.
The law had no effect in reducing Washington's appalling violent crime rate. The city consistently ranks among the nation's top seven in murders. Guns are plentiful on D.C. streets, yet law-abiding citizens may not own guns to protect themselves unless they were lucky enough to purchase and re-register them before Sept. 24, 1976.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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