- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 2, 2007

Residents of Washington, D.C., have an individual right under the U.S. Constitution to own handguns and use them for self defense.

This is hardly news to most Americans. But the ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in Parker v. District of Columbia, which recognized this right, sent waves of shock and indignation through city officials and caused some trepidation among the criminal class — sad to say, a key constituency in D.C. politics.

In 1976, the District of Columbia required that all firearms be registered, all owners be licensed and further prohibited the sale of new handguns. D.C. law also requires that all firearms be stored either locked up or disassembled and, of course, unloaded. So, while D.C. residents may own rifles and shotguns (after completing a lengthy and cumbersome application and registration) they may not own handguns (unless registered in 1976) and are precluded by law from having any firearm in a condition that would be useful for self-defense.

Mayor Adrian Fenty has indicated the city will seek an injunction (so the old law can still be enforced) pending an appeal to the Supreme Court. However, the consensus among many legal scholars is that this new more conservative Supreme Court is likelier to view the Second Amendment as granting an individual right to gun ownership rather than a collective right, as gun prohibitionists claim. Court watchers do not expect the court to hear the case (grant writ of certiorari), thereby allowing the lower court ruling to stand.

This latest battle over gun control laws is just part of the landscape that has see-sawed dramatically over the last 40 years. In Congress, the heyday of gun control began with the 1968 passage of the Gun Control Act and, with a few pro-gun exceptions like the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act of 1986, culminated with the one-two punch of the Brady Bill — mandating background checks on gun buyers — in 1993, and the “Assault Weapons Ban” of 1994.

There has since been a complete reversal of fortunes for gun control. Congress allowed the “Assault Weapons Ban” to expire in 2004, and passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act in 2005, which protects firearms makers from lawsuits.

In the states, where the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has actively worked with legislators, there are clear geographic splits. On the pro-Second Amendment side, mostly in the South and West, the most significant trend has been toward requiring state or local officials to provide licenses to carry a concealed firearm to citizens with no criminal record. Florida was the first of these “shall-issue” states in 1987 and 38 more have since enacted such legislation. Many of these same states have also enacted legislation, much of it based on ALEC model bills, protecting hunters’ rights, pre-empting local gun control laws, and expanding self-defense legislation under the “Castle Doctrine.”

On the flip side, about a half-dozen states have focused their efforts on increasing gun control. Mostly on the West Coast and in the Northeast, these states have legislation limiting the types of firearms that may be owned or purchased, limiting certain accessories, limiting the private sale of firearms, establishing waiting periods, and mandating licensing and/or registration of firearms and/or owners.

Gun owners in the D.C. area are well aware of the D.C.’s hostility toward them and that they can be arrested for having so much as a misplaced, single round of ammunition in their vehicles or on their person. D.C. officials often blame guns for the acts of criminals and attack states like Virginia for having “lax” gun laws. But Virginia, with gun laws that respect the right of gun owners much more than those of neighboring Maryland or D.C., has a much lower violent crime rate, 275 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, than does Maryland with a rate of 700 or D.C. with a rate of 1,371.

This begs the question. If Virginia is the source of the guns used by criminals, as D.C. officials claim, what is the source of the criminals? In the end, the question may be moot as law-abiding D.C. residents will likely soon be able to exercise a right they have had all along, the right to the means with which to defend themselves from those who would do them harm.


Director of public affairs for the American Legislative Exchange Council in Washington, D.C., and a National Rifle Association Certified Firearms Instructor in Northern Virginia.

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