- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 3, 2009

For the next three years, as many as 15 D.C. residents will enjoy a right denied their neighbors - the right to own recently banned semiautomatic weapons.

A discrepancy between D.C. laws approved last year enabled the residents to register semiautomatic firearms now listed as illegal in the nation’s capital. D.C. Attorney General Peter J. Nickles said roughly 15 weapons registered in the city “sit in this zone of uncertainty.”

The city’s statutes now state residents must register their guns every three years.

Mr. Nickles said those who have the semiautomatics will be prohibited from renewing their registrations, meaning the weapons would no longer be legal in the District.

The loophole is the result of the District’s repeated attempts to comply with the Supreme Court ruling in June that struck down the city’s decades-old ban on handguns.

Initial stopgap legislation approved by the D.C. Council a month later allowed residents to register handguns but prohibited them from registering automatic and semiautomatic handguns because they met the city’s definition of a machine gun.

After a lawsuit challenging the ban on semiautomatics - and amid a congressional effort to weaken the city’s laws even further - council members passed emergency legislation in September that legalized semiautomatics with magazine capacities of no more than 10 rounds.

That law expired in December, and the council approved another measure prohibiting specific types of semiautomatic firearms. Meanwhile, some residents have been able to register now-prohibited weapons with the Metropolitan Police Department.

“I think [police are] caught between a rock and a hard place on this,” said Maryland. “It has caused a real problem, and a lot of confusion.”

George Lyon - an initial plaintiff on the city’s gun-ban case decided by the high court - said he registered a semiautomatic rifle in late October.

“My understanding is under the new legislation, they would not register that weapon,” he said.

D.C. officials still must decide when they will notify residents of that decision, Mr. Nickles said.

“The question is when we tell them that and whether we decide to do something before the end of the three years,” he said. “But you know, we have to be fair about this.”

The issue could become moot if the Senate version of a measure granting the District congressional voting rights is signed into law.

Nevada Republican, last week successfully attached an amendment to the approved bill that would repeal some of the city’s strict gun laws, including a ban on semiautomatics.

But if a voting rights bill that does not include the gun amendment is passed in the House - which is expected to consider its version of the legislation this week - members of both chambers would resolve the differences between their bills in conference committee.

“Since the bill is not final, my administration will continue to work with both the Senate and House leadership to ensure the bill reflects the priorities of District residents and is passed in final form as swiftly as humanly possible,” said D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat.

The discrepancy in the D.C. law has already caused problems for some. Mr. Schneider said more than 10 of his customers have purchased firearms they hoped to register with the city, but were turned away.

“They’re not going to be registrable, apparently, and they’ll have to get rid of the guns,” he said.

Gillian St. Lawrence, another initial plaintiff in the gun-ban case, said she purchased an AR-15 rifle in December, days before the latest law’s passage.

Miss St. Lawrence said she intends to use the gun largely as “a hobby,” but was told she will have to move the weapon out of the city when it’s time to renew her registration.

“They said that I’m fine for now, but I won’t be able to re-register it in three years,” she said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen at that point, or if I’m going to have to go store it in my sister’s house.”


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