Friday, July 17, 2009

It’s been a year since a Northwest D.C. housewife carried a Ruger .357 Magnum into police headquarters in a blue plastic grocery bag and became the District’s first legal handgun owner since the Supreme Court overturned a decades-old ban.

Today, Amy McVey’s handgun is one of just 515 that have been legally registered with the Metropolitan Police Department — a number that pales compared with more than 2,000 illegal weapons that have been seized in the same period.

She hasn’t had to use it to defend her home. Nor has anyone attempted to steal it and use it against her or to commit some other crime — undermining the most widely used arguments for and against permitting guns.

In fact, police say they have no information that would indicate any gun legally registered since July 17, 2008, has been fired by its owner in defense of life or property, or that one has been stolen or used in the commission of a crime.

“I just wanted to have the gun in my house for protection,” Mrs. McVey, 46, told The Washington Times on Thursday. She said she has taken her gun to Maryland for target practice — much as she did when she kept it stored outside the city before it was registered.

“No, I’ve never had to pull the gun to protect myself. There have been times I was startled — you hear things outside. Is it on your front porch? — but you assess the situation. There was no harm to me inside the house.”

Asked where she keeps it, she said simply: “I can get to it.”

Lynda Salvatore, 38, bought a Glock 21 to protect herself and her Columbia Heights home. Miss Salvatore, a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office employee, bought the gun recently because she said she feels unsafe since she moved into her neighborhood three years ago.

“I mean, people are regularly shot within a three-block radius of me. I’ve seen three dead bodies on the streets since I moved here,” Miss Salvatore said.

“I’ve been harassed by kids on the street. … They’ll catcall after me and when I don’t answer them they call me white bitch and throw rocks at me.”

Miss Salvatore said she feels safer now that she has a gun.

During the year residents have been allowed to register guns, preliminary police statistics say violent crime and property crime have gone down citywide — a modest decline that even the most ardent gun rights advocate would have difficulty attributing to legal gun ownership. Police also say they have seized more than 2,000 illegal guns from D.C. streets in the last year.

Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, said the fears of gun-control advocates — that having more guns would lead to increased gun violence — were unfounded.

“All the handgun bill people’s predictions have proved to be wrong,” Mr. LaPierre said.

The Supreme Court ruled in June 2008 that the city’s near-total ban on handguns was unconstitutional and that residents should be allowed to keep guns in their homes for personal protection.

City officials began rewriting the laws immediately after the decision. The new laws still forbid semi-automatic and other high-powered weapons.

Peter Hamm, spokesman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said the District’s new gun regulations are “sensible.”

“We think the District has adopted sensible gun laws. If every jurisdiction in the U.S. had reasonable laws and common sense laws … we would be fine with that sort of system,” he said.

Litigation is pending over the gun restrictions the District implemented in the wake of the Supreme Court decision.

Last month, city officials expanded the types of pistols that can be legally registered. The list now includes any handgun that is legal in Maryland, Massachusetts or California.

Some of the original plaintiffs in the landmark case that overturned the gun ban say their work paid off.

George Lyon, a McLean attorney, registered two guns.

“Certainly to the extent that I am allowed to have a functional firearm in my home for self-protection, yeah, I feel safer,” he said.

Gillian St. Lawerence, a real estate investor and Georgetown resident who was another plaintiff in the case, owns three guns with her husband.

Mrs. St. Lawrence, 30, said she had a recent experience in which she heard someone running across her roof. When confronted, the man said he was there to clean the gutters but that he must have the wrong address.

“I told him to get down and called the police,” she said. “I didn’t have to take my gun out.”

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