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EDITORIAL: D.C. may budge on gun ban

Proposal would ease barriers to firearms ownership

- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 8, 2011

The spotlight on the District's effort to dissuade law-abiding residents from purchasing handguns is making some on the D.C. Council uncomfortable. Council member Phil Mendelson on Tuesday introduced legislation easing some of the most absurd hoops one must jump through in order to exercise the right to keep arms in the nation's capital.

As part of the ongoing "Emily gets her gun" series, The Washington Times' Emily Miller has documented each step in the convoluted process the council concocted to thwart legal gun ownership. One of the most obnoxious hurdles she has found so far is the requirement that prospective gun owners undertake four hours of classroom and one hour of range "safety" training. As Mr. Mendelson explained to his colleagues Tuesday, "That training can't be offered in the District of Columbia because our law is such that in order to handle a gun, it has to be registered to you. But you can't register the gun until you've had the training."

To break out of the difficulty, Mr. Mendelson proposes to clarify that the shooting portion of the training could happen within the city limits. In addition, he'd specify that individuals don't need to take the test for each gun they purchase and that military personnel with firearms training wouldn't have to waste their time taking a D.C.-specific class. Ballistic testing of each gun would also be eliminated.

These are all sensible steps in the right direction, but more must be done to reverse the District's revival of the despicable Jim Crow-era gun laws.

Following the Civil War, many Southern states required blacks to obtain police permission before they could own guns - which, of course, was never granted. Ratification of the 14th Amendment forced officials to be a bit more subtle with their racially motivated laws. So in 1871, Tennessee came up with "An Act to Preserve the Peace and Prevent Homicide" that made carrying anything but expensive military pistols a crime punishable by a $50 fine and three months in jail. The statute put the price of self-defense beyond the reach of most blacks, and it even included an instruction to local sheriffs that its provisions be "strictly enforced."

By significantly increasing the cost in both time and money of owning a handgun, the District is doing exactly what the Southerners did 140 years ago. Instructors today charge about $200 for the required course, which in most cases takes place at a location in Maryland or Virginia not easily accessible to someone without a car. Transferring a gun adds another $125 to the cost. It is as offensive to require proficiency tests and fees for the exercise one's Second Amendment right as it is to require a poll tax or an intelligence test before allowing someone to vote and express First Amendment rights.

The poorest of Washington's residents are the ones who most need a firearm to protect themselves. The District needs to repeal its discriminatory laws and respect the right of all its residents, not just its wealthy ones, to keep - and carry - arms.

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