Under pressure from Congress and the public, D.C. officials are moving to ease one of the least defensible of their anti-gun ordinances. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, also the Judiciary Committee's chairman, held a hearing Monday on his proposal to decriminalize possession of a gun or ammunition for nonresidents.
Mr. Mendelson opened by reading my accounts of military men jailed over innocuous mistakes with the city's gun-control laws. Army 1st Lt. Augustine Kim was arrested while legally transporting his firearms through the city because he stopped for a doctor's visit at Walter Reed Army Medical Center for an injury he sustained in Iraq.
Another veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, former Army Spc. Adam Meckler, was arrested at the Veterans of Foreign Wars building because he had 14 long-forgotten rounds of loose ammunition in his bag.
The bill under consideration would give the D.C. attorney general discretion not to charge nonresidents like Lt. Kim and Spc. Meckler with criminal counts carrying up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Instead, possession of an unregistered firearm or ammunition could be handled with a fine and no record.
The legislation will work its way through Mr. Mendelson's committee before a final version is put before the full council and Mayor Vincent C. Gray. Even the executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, David Horowitz, did not oppose the change, though he found it necessary to note in his testimony that the bill is "not an attempt to placate the NRA."
Andrew Fois, a D.C. deputy attorney general, said his office opposed the measure because administrative disposal "is not appropriate for firearms-related offenses for anyone." Laura Hankins of D.C.'s Public Defender Service testified that it's a question whether the bill violates the Constitution's Privileges and Immunities clause by only imposing criminal sanctions on residents.
Dick Heller, the man who successfully sued Washington and put an end to its unconstitutional, 30-year handgun ban, told Mr. Mendelson his bill is a "mere micro step in the right direction in the slow slog toward true firearms freedoms in our city." He wants carry rights recognized and elimination of the law requiring every firearm to be registered.
After the Supreme Court ruled in Mr. Heller's favor in 2008, the city council looked around the country and slapped every known firearm restriction into the D.C. code. The result was a convoluted, confusing mess that turned otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals.
With millions of tourists who come through Washington every year, it's only fair to make sure they don't leave with a criminal record for something that only happens to be illegal in the nation's capital.
Click here to read Lt. Kim's story.
Click here to read Spc. Meckler's story.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.
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