EDITORIAL: D.C.’s made-up gun laws

Onerous rules become even worse when they’re fabricated

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D.C. officials will do just about anything to keep law-abiding citizens from lawfully possessing a gun in the city. The Washington Times’ Emily Miller has found in the “Emily Gets Her Gun” series that the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) has been spreading false information about firearms ownership. As a result, residents and nonresidents who have done nothing wrong risk false arrest and gun confiscation. As of Friday, the MPD’s Firearms Registration Office had not removed the incorrect information from its website.

The registry office supplies a 22-page written guide to gun owners and answers their questions over the phone. The registration packet says that a gun can only be outside the home when “traveling directly to or from a lawful firearm-related activity (registration, hunting, shooting at a practice range, etc.).” This is inaccurate; residents can transport their registered handgun for any legal purpose as long as it is properly stored in their vehicle.

The word “directly” is the source of false interpretation by the department, which has been advising the public that a D.C. resident taking his pistol to a shooting range in Maryland or Virginia could not legally stop for gas or for lunch.

Asked about this, D.C. Councilman Phil Mendelson told The Washington Times, “They’re just making stuff up.” He ought to know because he wrote the firearm transport laws in the wake of the city’s Supreme Court loss in the District of Columbia v. Heller case. “We spent a lot of time on that in 2008. We modeled it after the federal law,” the at-large Democrat said.

According to D.C. law a legally registered firearm can be transported “for any lawful purpose” from any place where you can legally “possess and carry the firearm” to any other location where you can do the same. This means residents with properly registered guns can take a firearm from home (the only place the District recognizes as a legal place to keep arms) to neighboring states for any lawful reason.

Firearms attorney Richard Gardiner, who represents Dick Heller in a case before the courts on D.C.’s registration process, said that the errors in the police instructions seem to be based on laws that only apply to nonresidents. The D.C. code says that nonresidents driving with a firearm must be able to provide proof of going to or from the gun-related activity and that the gun is lawful in the home state. This old law is still on the books but has been superseded by the 2008 law and would be trumped by federal law.

D.C.’s registry office should immediately update its material to reflect the actual statute, and Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier should issue a memo to the entire police force ensuring her officers don’t mistake lawful activity for something unlawful. Mr. Mendelson could take the old law for nonresidents transporting guns off the books in his pending legislation before the District Council so that procedures are the same for all legal gun owners, whether residents or not. There is no room for interpretation of gun laws between cops and gun owners on the streets.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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