- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Owning a gun in the District of Columbia can be dangerous, because the city’s hastily drafted rules are putting the innocent in jeopardy. A gun owner who has cleared the District’s 17 registration hurdles still isn’t home free.

To continue exercising the Second Amendment right to keep arms, individuals have to renew registration certificates every three years and show up at the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) every six years to be fingerprinted. The citizen is responsible for the fees in each case.

The city council hastily drafted these requirements after the Supreme Court smacked down D.C.’s handgun ban in the 2008 Heller decision. The laws are proving to be so badly written that even the city can’t enforce them.

Anyone who registered a new pistol or owned a long gun prior to March 31, 2009, was supposed to receive an expiration notice from the police by the end of 2011 and submit a request for renewal by Jan. 31. This apparently did not happen.

The law says gun owners must resubmit their address, information on each firearm and confirmation that they are complying with all aspects of the regulations. The MPD’s registration office lacks a modern database system that can stay updated on the status of certification. That means gun owners who were never notified may inadvertently be breaking the law.

At a hearing Monday, Councilman Phil Mendelson proposed a slight change in the law to make it clear the re-registration process doesn’t require taking the 20-question written test again. The Democrat at-Large would still keep the rest of the requirements in place.

The District’s top cop insisted the burden for these checks should not fall on the citizens. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said MPD would need a new and expensive database system similar to that used to track drivers’ licenses. “This effort needs to be properly funded, or we need to reconsider whether the city can afford this requirement,” she explained.

Furthermore, the police chief said the fingerprinting requirement can be eliminated if the department begins regularly running background checks for convictions, protective orders and other disqualifying factors.

The head of D.C.’s police union says the city council is clearly trying to make life difficult for gun owners. “They’ve been clear on the record and they aren’t going to comply with Heller and are going to frustrate what is a constitutional right,” Kristopher Baumann told The Washington Times. “Whether they agree with it or not, they have to embrace the court’s decision and act accordingly and quit trying to frustrate the issue.”

Gun owners are already required to tell police if they move or sell the gun. The whole issue could be simplified by the council eliminating the tracking requirements. Ms. Lanier said she has the resources now to do background checks without new fingerprints, and that should satisfy the city council’s irrational desire to keep a tight leash on residents who are trying to follow the law.

Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.