Thursday, August 7, 2008

As the District prepares to fight double-barreled attempts to loosen its gun-control laws, some of the city’s gun rights pioneers have done what folks in Washington do best — they have formed a lobbying group.

About a dozen residents have pledged their support to Capital Gun Owners, a new D.C.-based gun advocacy and education group headed by Northwest resident Amy McVey.

“We’re at a point where we’re feeling our way here,” said Mrs. McVey, who was the first D.C. resident to register a handgun after the District’s 32-year-old ban on handguns was struck down by the Supreme Court in June. “I’m sure our mission will evolve as needed.”

The group includes co-founders George Lyon and Gillian St. Lawrence, who were among the six plaintiffs in the initial challenge to the District’s handgun ban in 2003, which led to the District of Columbia v. Heller Supreme Court case.

Mrs. McVey said the four-day-old group will lobby for less gun control and provide residents with gun-education resources as more of them seek to own guns.

The formation of the group comes as the District is taking fire from two sides — U.S. District Court and Congress — on its still-rigid gun-control laws.

On July 28, Dick Anthony Heller, who won his case in the Supreme Court, and two others filed a challenge against the city’s ban on semiautomatic weapons, which it defines as machine guns.

This week, the House of Representatives agreed to vote next month on a bill that would repeal the ban and eliminate registration requirements for people who pass federal licensing standards.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C. Democrat, opposes the bill. She said it treads on home rule in the District and would be detrimental to the city’s crime-fighting efforts.

Mrs. McVey said the group’s top priorities are lobbying the District to lift its ban on semiautomatic handguns, allow residents to carry handguns outside of the home, streamline or eliminate firearm registration and lobby Congress to allow D.C. residents to buy handguns in Maryland and Virginia.

Currently, firearms in the District must be registered, kept in the home and locked or disassembled unless they are being used for self-defense.

Most semiautomatic handguns are prohibited because they fall under the city’s definition of a machine gun, which is any gun that can hold 12 or more rounds without being reloaded.

Federal law requires people to purchase handguns in the state in which they live.

The creation of the group comes amid uncertainty about how many law-abiding people are interested in purchasing firearms in a city suffering from a high rate of gun violence.

Since the city opened handgun registration July 17, 287 persons have picked up handgun applications, 21 have brought in handguns to be registered and 11 have completed the process, according to Metropolitan Police spokeswoman Traci Hughes.

However, Mr. Lyon said he does not think D.C. residents are overwhelmingly against guns and that more supporters will surface as the organization becomes better known.

“I’m not positive that we’re in the minority,” Mr. Lyon said. “I’d like to think that we’d put a positive face on the concept of gun culture.”

D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, said he thinks groups like Capital Gun Owners are essential to crafting fair and reasonable legislation and looks forward to hearing from members when the Council addresses gun laws.

But Mr. Mendelson, who chairs the Council’s committee on public safety, said he thinks some of the criticism that has been made of the existing laws may be premature because they have not been examined since the gun ban was enacted in 1976.

“We have to take the law off the shelf, dust it off and see where the flaws are,” he said.

Mr. Mendelson said he still does not know whether he will convene a special committee hearing to examine gun laws while the Council is on summer recess.

The Council last month passed emergency legislation that is in effect for 90 days, outlining gun-registration procedures.

The Council is expected to draft permanent legislation in September after studying the impact and effectiveness of the current measures.

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