Thursday, February 21, 2008

Since 1976, the criminals of the city have carried handguns and killed with impunity, while the law-abiding have cowered in their midst.

This is not what the D.C. Council imagined 32 years ago when it enacted what is regarded as the strictest gun-control measure in the nation. The law did not work out as envisioned, because criminals, serial killers and nut jobs who go postal do not follow the law. This elementary observation inevitably escapes the thought process of the well-meaning.

Instead, the well-meaning point to the easy availability of handguns in Maryland and Virginia being the bane on the ban in the city, which is fair enough. So let’s imagine a national ban on handguns, just as there is a national ban on cocaine and heroin and other assorted substances. You know how this hypothetical ban would go down. A vast, unregulated black market suddenly would move into place to answer the demand, and the flow of handguns would remain as it ever was.

This is the reality that befuddles those politicians who endeavor to control more and more aspects of life, ostensibly to save lives. But humans, being the unruly animals that we are, find creative ways to skirt their puppeteers.

The matter of handguns in the city is before the Supreme Court now because of a security guard, Dick Anthony Heller, who thought it was the height of hypocrisy that he could carry a handgun to defend a federal building but could not keep one in his home to defend himself.

The Second Amendment case, the District of Columbia v. Heller, No. 07-290, is the first to go before the Supreme Court since 1939. Oral arguments are expected to begin next month; a ruling could come down in the summer.

I do not pretend to know how the nine justices will rule. I just know that out on the streets, far removed from the insulated federal buildings downtown and the fantasies often peddled by professors from their ivory towers, the issue of self-defense is considerably more gray.

Even in the so-called nicer parts of the city, there are streets that you dare not walk at night if you want to stay in possession of your health, money, credit cards and high-tech gadgetry.

There is something unsettling about a message that informs gang members and thugs that their prey will be unarmed and helpless. And that is the message, no matter how city lawmakers and the like-minded try to spin it otherwise.

The police cannot be everywhere at once, and, to be honest, a blood-free mugging is not high on their priority list. A mugging is the city’s equivalent of a badge of honor. You are not a genuine resident of the city unless your bicycle has been stolen, your automobile has been broken into and a crackhead has visited the roof of your home looking for an entry point.

It is true that a crackhead has rights, and it would be wrong to shoot him just because he is on the roof of your home in the middle of the night. He could be a loving crackhead. Or he could be a good Samaritan crackhead who wants to patch your roof. You just never know.

But as you try to determine if it is a roof-repair crackhead or merely a crackhead who wants to rob you, it would be nice to have an instrument of persuasion in your possession.

Now I know what our lawmakers would say. Do not take the law into your hands. Call police and wait on their arrival. And that is sound advice if the crackhead is in the mood to wait on police.

Crackheads, though, are not that good about following advice. Perhaps the D.C. Council could pass a law that requires crackheads to wait on police while burglarizing a home. It might be as effective as the handgun ban.

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