Wednesday, July 9, 2008

D.C. interim Attorney General Peter J. Nickles said Tuesday that the city needs to “get a handle on” the whereabouts of thousands of handguns that were registered in the District before its 32-year ban took effect.

“The presence of guns in the District is a matter of great concern,” Mr. Nickles said during a “Live Chat” session with The Washington Times. “This concern was at the heart of the handgun ban.”

The Metropolitan Police Department is unable to account for about 36,000 of the 41,000 handguns that were registered before the weapons were banned in 1976, Chief Cathy L. Lanier said Monday.

Police spokeswoman Traci Hughes said many gun owners might have moved out of the city without notifying the department. In other cases, relatives may have failed to tell the department when gun owners died.

“What we’re trying to do now is to automate the registration process,” Miss Hughes said. “One of the goals of automation is not only to make it easy for us to keep track of the guns but to make it easy for residents to register them.” She said she was not sure whether the department would audit the gun registration records.

The registration issue is the latest to surface after the Supreme Court struck down the District’s handgun ban on June 26. The decision said residents may register handguns in the District and keep them in their homes for self-defense.

In the online chat with Times readers, Mr. Nickles said he intends to push emergency handgun legislation at the D.C. Council’s legislative meeting July 15, although council member Phil Mendelson asked on Tuesday that the council consider a bill he introduced last week as emergency legislation.

“I believe it would be prudent for the council to act on critical provisions of the District’s gun law prior to the council’s recess beginning July 16,” said Mr. Mendelson, at-large Democrat.

Mr. Nickles said he did not see a problem with Mr. Mendelson’s bill at first glance, but expected the executive’s bill to be more comprehensive. He said he will meet with the council this week about introducing a bill.

In addition to repealing the gun ban and certain safe storage requirements, Mr. Mendelson’s bill would institute a waiting period for residents registering guns and require police to make a ballistics profile for every registered gun.

Mr. Nickles said the District also is considering handgun education as part of the “regulatory framework” that will be released next week.

During a council hearing last week, gun advocacy groups attacked the D.C. law that defines machine guns in a way that illegalizes most semiautomatic handguns.

Mr. Nickles said he expects the city to deal with the issue, but said more information would be available next week.

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