When one of the District of Columbia’s top political leaders is willing to spend a day at the shooting range with a new gun owner, it’s a sign the capital city may be ready to put aside the past. For 30 years, Washington banned handguns, only to face a Supreme Court rebuke in 2008. Now the city is about to make it easier for law-abiding residents to legally own a firearm.
On Tuesday, the D.C. Council is expected to pass the Firearms Amendment Act of 2012 under expedited procedures so it can take effect this summer. The ordinance will do away with many of the expensive and time-consuming hurdles to registering a gun in the District that were put in place after the court’s decision.
D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown, who will vote for the bill, has made a 180 on gun rights. Last fall, when I began my series “Emily Gets Her Gun,” about the process of getting a legal handgun in the District, I asked Mr. Brown if he thought the city was adhering to the high court’s decision that the gun ban was unconstitutional.
He didn’t answer directly. “The real question is how do we reduce crime, how do we get people back to work,” Mr. Brown said. “When you do that, so you can reduce crime, so it reduces the fear of crime.” I pointed out that higher gun ownership always leads to less crime.
When asked point-blank whether he believed in the Second Amendment, he sidestepped again, saying, “I don’t support having more guns in the District of Columbia.”
But by spring, Mr. Brown had a different perspective. “I want to go shooting with you sometime,” he told me at city hall one day, to my surprise. “I’ve never shot a gun before.” There are no shooting ranges in the District, and it’s illegal for me to take my gun anywhere, even unloaded, in the city. So we decided to meet at a nearby shooting range in Lorton.
Mr. Brown arrived before me at Sharp Shooters Small Arms Range on Friday. I found him explaining to store salesman Mike Collins how the new legislation will make it much easier and faster for D.C. residents to register legal guns. Wearing a tie under a sweater and accompanied by two aides, LeJuan Strickland and Karen Sibert, the chairman looked comfortable and confident in the gun store. “Not many Democrats here,” he said to me, laughing. No one in the store contradicted him.
I took Mr. Brown aside to teach him the National Rifle Association’s three safety rules. Then I handed him my D.C.-legal Sig Sauer to demonstrate the fundamentals of stance, grip and trigger pull. After 30 minutes, Mr. Collins picked out a .22 pistol from among the range’s rental firearms, gave us eye and ear protection and set us up in lanes in the range.
Mr. Brown was not afraid of the gun. On his first try, all his rounds landed in the blue part of the silhouette target. “Great job,” I said, after bringing back the target to get a closer look.
“Not good enough. Put it back out there. Let’s do it again,” he said. This time, he shot almost all in the nines and had two good groupings. After a couple more magazines with the .22, he was ready for more of a challenge. I loaded my 9 mm and showed him its basic controls. He took the gun and placed all his shots in or around the bull’s-eye. We decided he needed a new paper target to show his improvement. “I’m gonna tear this up,” he said, clipping up another blue target, and he did.
The chairman walked to the lane where Mr. Strickland was shooting his own .40 caliber Glock. Mr. Brown wanted to compete with Mr. Strickland, who has been shooting all his life in his home state of Missouri. They put their targets as far back as possible to see who could get a head shot first. To make it a little fairer, Mr. Brown shot with the .22 and Mr. Strickland used the .40. Still, Mr. Brown won handily. He got the head on the second shot, then hit three more. “Ben’s Chili dogs on you, LeJuan,” Mr. Brown said, laughing at his bemused aide.
The councilman shot for an hour and a half. At the end, he carefully rolled up his final blue target to put up in his office. Then he sorted through the spent brass casings on the floor to find a few of each caliber he had shot as souvenirs. He clearly had had a fun time, but was the range what he expected?
“No, actually it wasn’t. I figured you just go in and fire, no technique and just do it for the sake of saying you shot a gun,” he told me. “But I was really focusing on the target. It felt more like a sport. I wanted to make it a competition. If I spent some time in here, I think I’d be good,” he said. I agreed.
“But what I really want to do is learn to shoot a shotgun so I can go hunt,” he said.
“We can shoot clays next,” I said. “Now that’s hard.”