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September 15, 2008

Homeland Absurdity

In June, the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller, ruling that the District’s longstanding ban on handguns and safety & storage laws concerning firearms in the home violated the Second Amendment. D.C. lawmakers responded quickly by enacting emergency legislation to comply with the ruling. These temporary measures created a registration procedure for privately owned handguns and revised the city’s trigger-lock requirements to allow for self-defense in the home. Simultaneously, the D.C. Council announced they would enact permanent and comprehensive gun laws when they returned to work in the fall.

This good faith effort, however, was not good enough for the National Rifle Association (NRA), which saw an opportunity to turn the matter into a campaign issue. The NRA authored new legislation, H.R. 6691, which would go far beyond the stipulations of the Heller decision and eviscerate what’s left of the District’s gun laws. Their bill would repeal D.C.’s registration requirement for handguns, legalize semiautomatic assault weapons, allow individuals who have been voluntarily committed to psychiatric institutions within the last five years to own firearms, and prohibit the D.C. Council from enacting any gun-related legislation in the future. Most disturbingly, however, H.R. 6691 would allow individuals to carry loaded rifles and assault weapons in public.

During a September 8 hearing, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform called three law enforcement officials to testify about the potential impacts of H.R. 6691 on public safety and homeland security: D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier, Capitol Police Chief Phillip Morse and Deputy Chief of the Park Police Kevin Hay. All three voiced serious concerns about the bill. The Secret Service and the U.S. Marshals Service were also invited to testify, but were blocked by the Bush administration from doing so.

Chief Lanier stated that she had “grave concerns” about H.R. 6691 and opined that it would make her officers’ job to protect the public, government officials and visiting dignitaries “far more difficult.” She noted that over 4,000 special events occur in D.C. annually, including high-profile events such as the 4th of July celebration on the National Mall and the Presidential Inauguration. In her words: “Imagine how difficult it will be for law enforcement to safeguard the public, not to mention the new president at the inaugural parade, if carrying semiautomatic rifles were to suddenly become legal in Washington.” Chief Morse echoed this sentiment, saying such a situation “becomes an officer safety issue, as well as a public safety issue.”

Even with D.C.’s current gun laws, there are innumerable dangers for law enforcement to manage in the nation’s capital. Members of Congress were reminded of this just last week when an individual armed with an AK-47, a homemade grenade, and three magazines of ammunition was apprehended one block from the U.S. Capitol. His explanation to officers on the scene was that he “wanted to provide more ‘manpower’ in case of a conflict with a secret society.”

Do we really want to put law enforcement in situations where they can’t arrest individuals who are carrying loaded rifles near federal buildings? Apparently, in their zeal to appease the gun lobby during election season, Members of Congress are ready to put even their own lives at risk (in addition to the lives of D.C. residents and visitors to the nation’s capital). Sadly, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has announced that she will let H.R. 6691 come to the floor for a vote.

The NRA, feeling haughty and attempting to redefine the standard for hypocrisy, has even chastised the members of the D.C. Council for “demonstrating their arrogant disregard for the Supreme Court’s decision and the safety and liberty of their own law-abiding constituents.” Given the current lunatic provisions of H.R. 6691, however, it is clear that the D.C. Council—working through a democratic process—would do a far better job of protecting Washingtonians than Wayne LaPierre and the extremist leadership of the gun lobby.


  1. If only D.C. and CSGV would wake up and acknowledge that gun bans don't work, disarming citizens only leads to more crime against them and arming citizens is a good thing. The D.C. council HAS been doing a BAD job of protecting its citizens. Their murder rate is/was the highest in the nation, and that's with a gun ban! Police officer's know the risk when they joined the force, so that's not an excuse to not let citizens protect themselves with firearms.

  2. What does CSGV think of having fully automatic weapons being allowed to be purchased by civilians again? When Scalia said that "a ban on an entire "class" of firearms is unconstitutional" that right there made the ban on automatic weapons UNconstitutional. Automatic weapons are Class III firearms, they are NOT "dangerous" or "unusual", the ATF has already defined what is "dangerous" and "unusual", and automatics don't fall under that catergory.

  3. Rudy, given that 71% of Americans support renewing the Assault Weapons Ban on semiautomatic military-style weapons, we doubt that many would support legalizing fully automatic weapons. CSGV does not support changing current law regarding civilian ownership of automatic weapons.

    In fact, civilian ownership of automatic weapons has been carefully regulated in this country since the National Firearms Act of 1934. That Act was passed precisely because Americans considered these weapons dangerous and a direct threat to public safety. That law has stood the test of time despite the power of the gun lobby. - CSGV

  4. Actually, Rudy, the District of Columbia doesn't have the highest murder rate in the nation. FBI data on murder rates indicates that D.C. ranked 7th among cities with populations greater than 250,000 in 2006. Preliminary data from 2007 shows D.C. ranked 9th in this category.

    And D.C.'s laws have actually worked extraordinarily well in denying criminals access to guns. In 2007, more than 97% of guns found on crime scenes in the District were illegally trafficked in from outside states. It is not D.C.'s gun laws that criminals and traffickers are exploiting to purchase these firearms; but instead far weaker laws in states like Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Last we checked, neither the D.C. Council nor the MPDC had the power to write and enforce gun laws in outside jurisdictions that consistently allow criminals easy access to guns.

    As for the argument that we should put law enforcement officers at additional risk in the District through weak gun laws because they signed up for this type of duty, well, we couldn't disagree with you more. Tough gun laws should be kept in place to protect both D.C. residents and law enforcement officers alike - and that is indeed what the people of the city want. - CSGV