Thursday, February 8, 2007

Just a couple of weeks ago, Mayor Adrian Fenty acknowledged the obvious: “We have one of the highest homicide rates in the country but at the same time have the strictest [gun] law.” Of course, his solution was that every place else needed more gun control. Then this week, D.C. Council member Marion Barry and three other lawmakers proposed suspending the city’s 30-year-old handgun ban. For 90 days, Washingtonians should be able to buy and register handguns. It is a good start, though a permanent repeal would make more sense.

Mr. Barry, who found out last year what it was like to get robbed at gunpoint, is right that violent crime is epidemic. D.C. police cannot protect people. Like police everywhere, police almost always arrive on the scene after the crime has occurred. Even if you can get to a phone, an eight-minute wait for the police can seem like forever. A lot of law-abiding people have moved into the city since 1976, but they never have had a chance to get a gun to defend themselves.

Mr. Barry’s office admits the bill is “an acknowledgement that people do have guns.” He and the other lawmakers think that the solution is to make sure all guns are registered, though the people who will register their guns are not the problem.

Look at Canada, which has registered handguns since the 1930s and all guns since 1998. The Canadian government recently admitted that it could not identify a single violent crime that had been solved because of registration. Hawaii, which has had registration and licensing for around 50 years and well-protected borders, has had the same experience.

An amnesty to register guns isn’t going to make D.C. safer. The laws fail for a simple reason: Criminals rarely leave their guns at the scene so that they could be tracked, and even when they do, the criminals’ guns are not registered. Registration really just imposes a cost on law-abiding citizens.

The city should also do away with other laws that endanger innocent people, such as requirements that we keep our guns locked, unloaded and disassembled. It may take less than eight minutes to unlock and load your gun for defense, but it still takes too long. Research indicates these laws endanger many more lives than they save.

Since 1976, the city’s murder rate is up 32 percent. The country’s is down 36 percent. Let’s see whether letting law-abiding citizens get more guns means less crime.

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