In Tuesday’s editorial “Obama cuts crime” (Comment & Analysis), The Washington Times claimed that a rise in gun ownership has led to lower homicide rates around the country. While I cannot comment on homicides elsewhere, I can certainly refute that “the Supreme Court’s overturning of Washington’s [gun] ownership ban and trigger-lock laws” contributed to the reduction in homicides in 2009. I would like to set the record straight on a number of points raised in the editorial.
As a result of the U.S. Supreme Court June 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, private D.C. residents can legally purchase and register a handgun for self-defense in the home. First, it is important to note D.C. residents could always legally register many shotguns and rifles. In the two years since the Heller decision, only 900 handguns and semiautomatic rifles or shotguns that could not have been registered before Heller have been registered to individuals. Since there were already more than 70,000 guns registered before Heller, including law enforcement, security, long guns, and handguns legally registered before the 1976 ban, this is not a dramatic increase in gun ownership. Additionally, the Supreme Court decision was in no way related to trigger locks, which are recommended - but not required - under D.C. law.
More importantly, legally registered firearms in the home have no impact on gun violence on the streets, which, unfortunately, represents the majority of gun violence in the District of Columbia. In fact, home burglary is the only serious crime that has increased in the District over the past 12 months. The District has been successful in driving down homicides - with the total in 2009 representing the lowest since 1966 - because the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), community members and our partners in the criminal justice system have been working together to get offenders off the streets quickly and prevent the cycle of retaliatory violence that has plagued our city for too long. In addition to the dramatic decline in homicides, which is down more than 20 percent again this year, the next most important statistic is not the number of guns legally owned, but our high homicide closure rate. In the past three years, MPD’s homicide closure rate increased from 65 percent to 76 percent, a homicide closure rate that is more than 20 percent higher than the average of comparably sized cities. Homicide detectives are closing new cases more quickly and reaching back further to close cold cases. In 2007, new homicide cases took an average of 54 days to close. In 2008, that was reduced to 38 days. In 2009, we cut that time even further to just 30 days. At the other end of the spectrum, MPD is also closing more cold cases, including homicides that happened more than a decade ago.
While these statistics show an impressive improvement in closing murders, the more important message behind these numbers is that criminals will not get away with taking a life in the District. If you take a life today, we will find you and gather the evidence to arrest and prosecute you. If you murdered someone in the past, you can never rest easily; you will never be safe, no matter how much time passes. For these cold cases, justice in the District may not be as swift as we want it to be, but it will be certain. With all due respect to legal gun owners in the District of Columbia, this has been the key to driving down homicide, not legally registered handguns in the home.
CATHY L. LANIER
Chief of Police
Metropolitan Police Department