City leaders in Washington, D.C. have finally admitted their 30-year gun ban hasn’t done a bit of good. That’s the good news. The bad news is they’re proposing something that strikes me as just as stupid, all in the name of reducing crime.
Former mayor Marion Barry says he wants to end the District’s ban on handgun ownership for ninety days. That’s right. For three months, you can legally register a handgun with the city, and Barry says after the ninety day period is over, you’ll still be able to keep your gun, or so the politicians say now.
Forgive me for not trusting Mr. Barry, but his proposal came complete with sound bites about “a gun-violence epidemic” and “getting guns off the streets.” Based on what I’ve read about the bill, I can’t help but think that if this were really about admitting the failure of D.C.’s gun laws, there’d be some talk of “self-defense” and “restoring the 2nd Amendment to the District”.
Let’s think about this for a second. Washington, D.C. police recovered 2,656 firearms last year. How many of those firearms were in the possession of people who were either committing a crime or had criminal records? I can’t imagine there are many D.C. residents who live otherwise law-abiding lives but have illegally owned a firearm for any length of time. In other words, I don’t see a lot of folks going to the D.C. police and registering what was an illegally possessed handgun.
I suppose the bill would theoretically allow for D.C. residents to legally purchase a firearm and register it with the city, but in practice it would be nearly impossible for someone to do so. Without delving too deeply into the intricacies of federal firearms law, a resident of the District would either have to legally buy a gun in the District or buy a gun outside of D.C. and have it transferred to a federally licensed firearms dealer inside the city. As you can imagine, after thirty years of banning firearms, there aren’t exactly a large number of licensed gun dealers in our nation’s capital.
Barry’s spokesman says the proposal is "an acknowledgment that people do have guns" in Washington, D.C. I would think the more than 2,000 guns seized by police last year would be an acknowledgment as well. Even if Barry won’t phrase it this way, the bill is an acknowledgment that the District’s gun ban has failed. It’s failed to lower the crime rate, it’s failed to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, and it’s failed to encourage other cities and states to pass similar laws.
But here’s what I don’t get. If the politicians in D.C. have realized that the law doesn’t work, why do they want to only temporarily rescind the ban? If this is really an acknowledgment of the ban’s failure, it seems to me that it would be better to just repeal the ban entirely. I’ve heard a number of people, gun owners and non-gun owners alike, say that the proposal seems suspicious somehow. In some cases, it might be a concern that at some point after the ninety-day window closes, those who had registered would be targeted for confiscation. Others suggest Barry and others may be trying to evade a court case challenging D.C.’s ban on handguns.
Barry’s going to face a tough sell for his proposal. Most gun owners don’t trust the D.C. City Council to ever act in a manner supportive of legal gun ownership, and most gun control advocates don’t want to see any legislation that would rescind the ban, even temporarily. Clearly the current situation isn’t doing anything but keeping District residents defenseless, but Barry’s proposal doesn’t seem aimed at empowering the law abiding in Washington, D.C. either. In fact, it’s hard to tell what exactly Barry’s aiming for, and that alone is reason to tread carefully when it comes to this proposal.