Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Gun-rights advocates are cautiously optimistic these days, and with good reason. The latest Second Amendment news is that a federal appeals court will not reconsider a panel judgment against the District of Columbia’s gun ban. This means that the options facing pro-gun-ban Mayor Adrian Fenty are, at least by his lights, all bad. The District may now either take the case to the Supreme Court or admit that the gun ban is defeated. City officials must decide by the second week of August.

What a Catch-22 for the gun-control crowd. For reasons clear enough to any Supreme Court-watcher, few gun-controllers want Mr. Fenty to pursue the case there. Assuming that the court agrees to hear it, the current justices are likelier than any group in recent memory to scale back gun-control laws now that conservative Justice Samuel Alito has replaced Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

If for that reason Mr. Fenty and city officials decide to let the case rest, that would mean allowing D.C. residents to keep guns in their homes — a major change for Washington and a warning against gun-control overreach elsewhere. This would be anathema to a city political establishment that is loathe to contemplate a post-ban Washington. Look for local liberal ideologues to spend the next three months scaring up the town with talk of some chaotic future of urban warfare in which freely available firearms swarm the capital of the United States.

What you won’t hear is that such talk accurately describes the violent Washington of the 1960s through the 1990s. The gun ban was enacted in 1975. Washington’s homicide rate was terrible before, during and after that year, with a high of 482 murders in 1991 when the city had 598,000 residents. Murders began to decline in the 1990s, tracking crime trends nationally, albeit in grotesquely exaggerated form.

Looking at the data, one thing is clear: There is no discernable relationship between gun violence and the District’s gun ban. Washington’s gun-control lobby has always used the absence of a relationship to argue for D.C.-style gun laws to be enacted similarly in neighboring Maryland and Virginia on the notion that uniformity would mean safety. But they never had much use for counterexamples around the country (much less constitutionalist arguments). This debate has always been a singular exercise in cynical Beltway statistic-mongering.

It’s time for this ban to go. Mayor Fenty said he was “disappointed” and “surprised” by this week’s ruling, which we’re sure he is. He says that he still considers the ban to be a “critical part of the District’s crime-control strategy.” Then there was this: The “predominant factor” will be “the safety of District residents.” What if the safety of District residents means allowing the law-abiding to defend themselves for once? Criminals and murderers arm themselves regardless. Real safety requires allowing the free exercise of our constitutionally mandated right to bear arms — to defend ourselves and our families in the face of violence by the armed and lawless.

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