- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Prosecutors in the District said yesterday they have filed charges in about 1,000 cases since last year for violations of the city’s gun-possession laws, among the most restrictive in the country.

Among the violations were 977 for carrying a pistol without a license, said Channing Phillips, a spokesman for interim U.S. Attorney Kenneth L. Wainstein. He also said 633 of the pistol-violation cases, or two-thirds, resulted in convictions.

Officials gave the numbers on the eve of the House of Representatives’ effort to repeal sections of the District’s gun laws, which are the most restrictive on carrying an unlicensed pistol and on the possession of unregistered guns and ammunition.

House members are expected to vote today on legislation to ease the District’s firearms restrictions, which have been in effect since 1976. Lawmakers are targeting 16 subsections of the D.C. Code that apply to criminal charges for owning a gun in the District.

The bill, titled the District of Columbia Personal Protection Act, has support from 228 of the House’s 435 members. A similar bill introduced in the Senate was withdrawn last week.

The House bill does not attempt to change sections of D.C. Code that mandate strict penalties for criminals using guns and for those who sell guns to minors.

For example, felons convicted of firearms possession would still get up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. And felons who use a firearm during the commission of a violent crime would still receive a maximum 15-year prison sentence.

The 1,000 charges included 27 for unregistered guns and 13 for unregistered ammunition, said Tarifah Coaxum, a spokeswoman for D.C. Attorney General Robert Spagnoletti.

Miss Coaxum said prosecutors dropped about 15 of the 40 unregistered-guns and unregistered-ammunition cases, but the number of convictions is unclear because some cases are pending and defendants in others may have pleaded guilty to lesser charges.

The bill also leaves intact the maximum $10,000 fine or one-year prison term for those who distributed firearms or ammunition to a person younger than 18. However, it would eliminate the maximum one-year penalty or $1,000 fine for first-time offenders of the gun-possession law, and the maximum five-year penalty or $5,000 fine for second offenders.

Possessing unregistered ammunition always is a misdemeanor.

However, carrying a pistol without a license in the District can be either a felony or a misdemeanor charge, depending on whether the offender was carrying the pistol someplace other than his or her home or business.

Possession of an unregistered firearm also can be a felony or misdemeanor, depending on whether the offender distributed a weapon to a child or if the offender had a previous firearms offense.

Most misdemeanors are prosecuted by the District’s Office of the Attorney General, and felonies are prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The proposed House legislation would repeal a total of 10 laws governing gun registration. It also would repeal the law that makes possession of ammunition illegal and the law that requires legal firearms to be stored unloaded and disassembled or bound by a trigger lock.

It would amend the D.C. Code to allow the owning of guns by more people than just police, arson investigators and military and security personnel. But it would leave in place a ban on sawed-off shotguns, short-barreled rifles and machine guns.

The bill amends the definition of a machine gun to strike semiautomatic weapons that can fire more than 12 shots without manual reloading. The amended subsection would define a machine gun as a weapon that can fire “more than one shot by a single function of the trigger.”

The legislation also would no longer allow the D.C. Council to impose new laws that would “discourage or eliminate the private ownership or use of firearms.”

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