- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 10, 2007

Significant gun laws dating back to the 1930s remain in the D.C. Code despite a recent federal court decision that overturned sections of the District’s 30-year-old ban on handguns.

For example, even if the gun ban is overturned, it will continue to be against the law to carry a gun outside the home in the District.

Machine guns and sawed-off shotguns will remain illegal, gun sales by anyone other than a licensed dealer will still be prohibited, drug addicts and convicted felons will continue to be barred from buying or possessing guns, and it will still be against the law for unlicensed gun owners to possess ammunition.

In the first three months of the year, prosecutors in the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District filed charges in at least 134 cases related to those offenses, in which illegal gun or ammunition possession was the only or primary charge.

Those figures do not include more serious cases such as murder or assault, in which weapons possession was charged as a secondary offense.

Other city guns laws that would remain unchanged if the ban was repealed include laws stiffening penalties for committing a crime while armed and for carrying weapons within “gun-free zones,” such as schools, playgrounds and youth centers.

“The ruling leaves intact important parts of our gun law,” said D.C. Attorney General Linda Singer. “But it also eviscerates important parts.”

A March 9 decision by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit overturned a lower-court decision and revoked city gun regulations that prohibit most residents from legally registering guns and from keeping firearms in their homes. It also overturned a law requiring legal firearms to be stored bound and disassembled.

The full court Tuesday declined to revisit the decision, leaving city officials with the last resort of appealing the case to the U.S. Supreme Court if they hope to preserve the ban. Officials have 90 days to ask the Supreme Court to hear the case, in which time the ban will likely remain intact.

At a Tuesday press conference protesting the decision, D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said officials also may choose to craft new legislation in lieu of a Supreme Court appeal.

The mayor said the potential legislation could define “exactly how handguns could be stored in the home and what is still not permitted in the District of Columbia.”

Mr. Fenty has credited the gun restrictions with helping to “decrease gun violence in the District of Columbia” and D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, said officials must “fight Congress and the courts from opening up the floodgates” of guns in the city.

FBI statistics show that the District’s homicide rate was 32.8 per 100,000 residents in 1975, the last full year before the gun ban was passed by the council.

In 2005, the last full year for which statistics were available, the rate was 35.4. The rate dropped immediately after the ban was imposed and skyrocketed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when gang battles fueled by crack cocaine and automatic weapons drove homicide levels to record highs. The homicide rate has leveled off in recent years.

Even if the ban falls, the District would still be subject to federal laws, which bar certain people from purchasing a firearm and mandates background checks.

States and jurisdictions often choose to make those federal requirements more stringent as well, said Michael Campbell, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

“At a bare minimum, you have to follow the federal firearms laws,” Mr. Campbell said. “That would be no different if the ban went away.”

The appeals court specifically declined to address easing the District’s other laws, saying in its decision that “we need not consider the more difficult issue whether the District can ban the carrying of handguns in public, or in automobiles.”

Carrying a pistol without a license is a felony punishable by five years in prison for a first offense and 10 years for a second offense.

Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat and chairman of the council’s Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, said the appeals court’s decision will weaken the effectiveness of the laws they left alone.

“By saying 500,000 more people can have guns in their homes, there could be 500,000 more guns in the District of Columbia,” Mr. Mendelson said. “If you open the floodgates, then every other situation is impacted. In that way, the effectiveness of these other laws is reduced.”

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