A bill that would decriminalize gun and ammunition possession charges for some legal firearms owners from outside the city caught traveling through the District with their weapons goes before a D.C. Council committee Monday, a potential change to the law that comes too late for one Capitol Heights man.
The bill would allow the attorney general’s office to offer an “administrative disposition” rather than criminally prosecute cases in which residents outside the District are found in the city with unregistered guns or ammunition.
“These offenses would still be handled the same way by the [Metropolitan Police Department], and violators would still be subject to arrest,” D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said when he introduced the legislation in July. “This legislation is meant to deal with those cases where individuals may lawfully possess firearms or ammunition in their home states but who unknowingly transport their firearms or ammunition into the District without knowledge of the District’s firearms laws.”
Mr. Hogue’s life was turned upside down when he was stopped in the District with a gun in his car and criminally charged. He has been in contact with the Judiciary Committee about his case but does not plan to testify at the hearing Monday.
Wrong side of the line
Mr. Hogue, 43, was a licensed special police officer in the District. The morning of March 28, 2011, he was driving his wife and a friend to the Kmart in Hyattsville where his two passengers planned to apply for jobs, he said. Making the way from his Capitol Heights apartment, Mr. Hogue got lost, he said, and diverted briefly into the District before turning around and heading back into Prince George’s County. He was on Eastern Avenue, the dividing line between the District and Maryland, when a U.S. Park Police officer noticed the dark tint on his windows, according to court documents filed in his case.
The officer ran Mr. Hogue’s tags and found that the car registration was suspended — a result of failure to comply with a repair order issued on his car. The Park Police officer, listed in D.C. Superior Court documents as Jeffrey McKeever, wrote in his report that he sensed Mr. Hogue was nervous, so he inquired further.
“I observed three thin blue line stickers on the vehicle, and could see that he had a security uniform covering the center console of the vehicle,” Officer McKeever wrote. “I asked him where his weapon was and he stated that his gun was in the rear trunk compartment of the vehicle. Once he admitted to the possession of the handgun, he was detained while additional police officers were called to the scene.”
Ammunition was found in the purse of Rochelle Hogue, Mr. Hogue’s wife. Paperwork provided by Mr. Hogue indicated that he purchased the .45 caliber Glock four days earlier from the Maryland Small Arms Range in Upper Marlboro.
“That was a personal weapon that I just bought days before, and I was going to the range to practice with it,” Mr. Hogue said in an interview at his apartment. “My wife was just trying to get a job at Kmart and we made a wrong turn and all this happened.”
It’s unclear whether Mr. Hogue would have been violating Maryland law if he had been stopped just a block away off Eastern Avenue in Prince George’s County. Maryland law requires that guns transported in vehicles must be unloaded, in an enclosed case and kept separate from ammunition. The person transporting the gun must be traveling to or from a specified location.
The arms range is one locations where state law allows legal gun owners to travel with their weapons. Mr. Hogue said the weapon was in a container, although court papers did not specify whether the gun was contained.
Police arrested Mr. Hogue and charged him in the District with possession of an unregistered firearm and unlawful possession of ammunition.