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Bill would drop classroom, firing range rule to register a gun

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A D.C. Council committee greenlighted a bill on Wednesday that eliminates classroom training and firing range instruction as a prerequisite for registering a gun.

The legislation approved 3-0 by the Committee on the Judiciary also allows the mayor to act as a federal firearms licensee to oversee the transfer of out-of-state handguns to D.C. residents, if there is no one to fill the role. Currently there is only one licensee in the District, Charles Sykes Jr., who operates out of the Metropolitan Police Department's headquarters.

Under the bill, current gun owners won't have to re-register their firearms until January 2014. The District requires gun owners to renew their registration every three years, but was ill-equipped to handle upcoming renewals.

Committee Chairman Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, plans to introduce the bill for a first reading before the full council at its legislative meeting on Tuesday. He will introduce the re-registration moratorium as an emergency, so it would go into effect immediately if passed.

Firearms instructor George L. Lyon Jr. said the bill marks "substantial progress" for Second Amendment rights in the District, a city that prohibited handguns for decades before the U.S. Supreme Court lifted the ban in 2008 with its landmark opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller.

Mr. Lyon, a local gun activist and plaintiff in the Heller case, said he informed Mr. Mendelson's office months ago of a key problem in the District - namely he could not, legally, show a student how to grip a gun and other safety pointers in the classroom.

"If I handed you a firearm that's not registered to you, I'm committing a crime and you're committing a crime," he said. "So it's a Catch-22."

D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said the elimination of classroom and firing range sessions "makes sense" and brings the District in line with other jurisdictions.

She said potential registrants will instead view a simple training video and take a one-time knowledge test on gun laws.

Among other provisions, the bill eliminates a vision test (except for the legally blind), the ballistics test and most restrictions on the types of ammunition a registrant can possess, but increases the penalty for possessing so-called "cop killer" bullets that can penetrate layers of Kevlar body protection.

Ricardo A. Royal, national president of the Community Association for Firearms Education, said he grew up in the Fort Totten area, but the inability to instruct students on firearm safety in the District was a factor in his move to Maryland.

He said the gun laws addressed in Mr. Mendelson's bill have a long, tortured history in the District, yet "the Heller decision brought it front and center."

Mr. Mendelson said automatic weapons are still prohibited, and potentially dangerous persons such as felons and the mentally ill are still barred from gun ownership.

Committee member Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat, also noted there is no change to the penalties for carrying an unregistered gun. Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, was the third member to approve the bill at its markup.

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