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Officials upset by court decision

- The Washington Times - Friday, June 27, 2008

D.C. officials and lawmakers Thursday expressed dismay at the Supreme Court ruling that struck down the District's 32-year-old ban on handguns and said they will spend the next three weeks drafting guidelines to strictly regulate the weapons.

"As mayor, although I'm disappointed in the court's ruling ... it is important to both respect the court's authority and then to act quickly," Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat, said on the steps of the city's John A. Wilson Building.

City officials and lawmakers uniformly said they would implement strict regulations to govern the sale and registration of handguns but were not certain about what kinds of guidelines would be put in place.

D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, a Democrat, said the council did not attempt to draft any legislation regarding handguns until the court's decision because of the complex nature of the case.

"There were too many permutations associated with this, too many likely outcomes," Mr. Gray said. "There certainly were some basic scenarios that we looked at, but we'll know [by July 15] before we recess what needs to be done immediately."

Mr. Gray said that he may convene an emergency council session during its summer recess to discuss new guidelines.

Mr. Fenty gave the Metropolitan Police Department 21 days to create regulations that will allow residents to register handguns to be kept in the home for personal protection.

The District's ban was overturned by a 5-4 ruling that said prohibiting handguns for self-defense in the home in the District was unconstitutional.

Interim D.C. Attorney General Peter J. Nickles said he expects the new registration requirements and procedures to be significantly different from those in place before the gun ban.

He said changes will be necessary in part because the city will develop an amnesty program for residents who previously owned handguns and were not allowed to register them.

"We have an entirely different type of situation," Mr. Nickles said. "We're going to have to provide an amnesty program that is meaningful and clear."

Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said she would work with Mr. Nickles and the council to develop registration guidelines.

"We want to keep the number of handguns in the District to a minimum," Chief Lanier said. "But we're going to follow through and respect the decision of the courts."

Residents still will not be able to carry handguns outside of the home or register firearms that have been purchased illegally.

The D.C. Council, residents and community leaders largely have supported the ban, though they have mixed predictions about the future of public safety now that it has been lifted.

D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, said the District's current registration guidelines will be sufficient until city officials can closely examine the ruling. But, he said that he thinks the loss of the gun ban is bad for the city.

"I do see that there will be a very subtle change for the worse," he said. "And that change will be more accidents in the home and more violent crimes where the gun was stolen from the citizen."

Mr. Mendelson, who is chairman of the council's public safety committee, will hold a hearing next week to discuss options for drafting a policy that will promote gun safety in the home.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said the argument that residents should be able to own handguns for self- defense has been oversold and that many of them will buy guns for the wrong reasons or act irresponsibly.

"You now have a handy gun in the house in case you need to use it in the neighborhood or somewhere else," said Mrs. Norton, a Democrat. "These guns are not going stay in the house. They're going to come out in people's pockets and in people's purses."

Mrs. Norton said she also worries that guns will give residents a false sense of security and be used against them if they are attacked.

But she said that she thinks the Supreme Court's decision gives the District "considerable room" for effective restrictions.

A spokesman for Rep. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia, a Republican who in 2005 convened a House committee hearing on legislation that would have repealed the ban, said the congressman would not comment on the ruling.

The court's ruling comes as Chief Lanier battles a recent spike in homicides in the 5th Police District in Northeast that led her to take a drastic step of setting up traffic checkpoints in the Trinidad neighborhood.

As of Thursday, there were 85 homicides in the city, the same figure as this time last year. Twenty-two of those killings occurred in the 5th District.