D.C. set to re­lax gun laws, hes­i­tantly

Move would ease reg­istry hur­dles

The Washington Times Daily - - Metro - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

A bill that cuts train­ing ses­sions and other im­ped­i­ments to reg­is­ter­ing a gun in the Dis­trict is ex­pected to pass, per­haps unan­i­mously, when it goes be­fore the en­tire D.C. Coun­cil in com­ing weeks.

But its aus­pi­cious path to law is pe­cu­liar in one re­spect — city law­mak­ers may not op­pose the mea­sure, but they aren’t about to sing its praises or say much about it at all, even if re­stric­tive gun laws in the Dis­trict were the sub­ject of a land­mark U.S. Supreme Court case and loomed large in a re­cent pitch for D.C. state­hood.

Coun­cil mem­ber Phil Men­del­son, at-large Demo­crat, in­tro­duced the Firearms Amend­ment Act of 2012 to fix stum­bling blocks that made it dif­fi­cult for res­i­dents to meet pre-reg­is­tra­tion re­quire­ments within the city’s borders. Even as the bill heads to the coun­cil’s agenda Tues­day, Mr. Men­del­son noted his col­leagues may not have delved into the sub­ject — it is viewed as highly tech­ni­cal — as much as gun ad­vo­cates out­side of the John A. Wil­son Build­ing.

“It’s not so much they don’t have ex­pe­ri­ence in re­lax­ing gun laws,” he said Thurs­day. “The coun­cil doesn’t have ex­pe­ri­ence with it at all.”

The Com­mit­tee on the Ju­di­ciary, of which Mr. Men­del­son is chair­man, for­warded the bill to the full coun­cil on Wed­nes­day with a 3-0 vote of ap­proval, not­ing the re­forms do not elim­i­nate the Dis­trict’s tough reg­is­tra­tion laws or its ban on au­to­matic weapons.

Com­mit­tee mem­ber Jack Evans, Ward 2 Demo­crat, said his grudg­ing ap­proval was part of the plan all along.

“If Phil says this is what we’ve got to do, then this is what we’re go­ing to do,” Mr. Evans said Thurs­day.

Com­mit­tee mem­ber Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Demo­crat, was un­able to at­tend the markup but said she would have ap­proved it, de­spite “some reser-

va­tions” over the ar­gu­ment that class­room train­ing and bal­lis­tics tests were in­ef­fec­tual.

“Do we throw out what we have or find a way to do it bet­ter?” she said.

Un­der the bill, gun reg­is­trants will watch a video in lieu of class­room and range train­ing and still take a one­time test on safety and gun laws. It also elim­i­nates a vi­sion test and most re­stric­tions on types of am­mu­ni­tion.

Coun­cil mem­ber Yvette M. Alexan­der, Ward 7 Demo­crat, said she is leery of mak­ing it eas­ier to ob­tain a gun in the Dis­trict. She will sup­port the bill “as long as there are some safe­guards in place, but I want to make sure there is a train­ing com­po­nent.”

It may seem un­usual for the city’s law­mak­ers — hardly a pro-gun group — to make reg­is­tra­tion sim­pler, but the body needs to re­spect in­di­vid­ual rights, coun­cil Chair­man Kwame R. Brown said Thurs­day. He does not ex­pect any for­mal op­po­si­tion to the bill among his col­leagues.

Mayor Vin­cent C. Gray also sup­ports Mr. Men­del­son’s bill.

If en­acted, the leg­is­la­tion should please firearms en­thu­si­asts and mem­bers of Congress who fre­quently point to the Dis­trict’s strin­gent gun laws as an af­front to the Sec­ond Amend­ment right to bear arms, de­spite city of­fi­cials’ con­cerns about ur­ban crime and at­tacks on elite politi­cians and diplo­mats who fre­quent the na­tion’s cap­i­tal.

The law would also put the Dis­trict more in line with other ju­ris­dic­tions’ gun laws and with the spirit of the U.S. Supreme Court’s opin­ion in Dis­trict of Columbia v. Heller, a land­mark 2008 rul­ing that struck down the city’s long-stand­ing ban on hand­guns as un­con­sti­tu­tional.

Loos­en­ing D.C. gun laws will also, at least in the­ory, aid the Dis­trict’s pitch for bud­get au­ton­omy or full vot­ing rights on Capi­tol Hill. But some say the re­forms do not go far enough to make a tan­gi­ble im­pact.

Con­ser­va­tive law­mak­ers on the Hill are not shy about their all-or-noth­ing stance on the Sec­ond Amend­ment. In re­cent months, Re­pub­li­can House mem­bers mulled a plan to let peo­ple carry a con­cealed firearm in the Dis­trict — a prac­tice that is strictly for­bid­den in the city — if they hold an outof-state per­mit.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Re­pub­li­can, and chair­man of a House Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form sub­com­mit­tee on D.C. af­fairs, said through a spokesman Thurs­day that the “right to arm and de­fend one­self is fun­da­men­tal and does not change be­cause one hap­pens to trans­verse a city or state boundary.”

And in New Hamp­shire, state leg­is­la­tors told D.C. of­fi­cials lob­by­ing for state­hood in Jan­uary that curbs on gun own­er­ship sim­ply do not jibe with their “Live Free or Die” ideals.

“Of­ten when peo­ple don’t like some­thing, they will grasp at ex­cuses,” Mr. Men­del­son said. “I frankly think [the bill] will not have much of an ef­fect.”

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