D.C. gun own­ers face reg­is­tra­tion re­newal

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Emily Miller

For the first time in the United States, a cit­i­zen who has legally reg­is­tered a gun will have to sub­mit to a re­newal process. The con­se­quences of not know­ing about this new law or miss­ing the spe­cific 60-day win­dow are dire.

Start­ing on Jan. 2, ev­ery sin­gle D.C. res­i­dent who has reg­is­tered a firearm since 1976 must go to po­lice head­quar­ters to pay a $48 fee and be pho­tographed and fin­ger­printed. The Met­ro­pol­i­tan Po­lice Depart­ment es­ti­mates there are at least 30,000 reg­is­tered gun own­ers.

If the reg­is­trant does not go to the po­lice sta­tion within three months af­ter a set time frame, the reg­is­tra­tion is re­voked. That cit­i­zen is then in pos­ses­sion of an un­reg­is­tered firearm, which is a felony that car­ries a max­i­mum penalty of a $1,000 fine and a year in jail. The gun it­self is put into a cat­e­gory of weapons that can never be reg­is­tered, just as though it were a ma­chine gun or a sawed-off shot­gun.

The city has not made clear how it will en­force the law, but the po­lice are in pos­ses­sion of all reg­is­trants’ home ad­dresses so con­fis­ca­tion and ar­rests would be sim­ple.

The po­lice are no­ti­fy­ing reg­is­trants by mail that they have to come to the sta­tion on the set sched­ule. Also, the depart­ment took out a $550 ad­ver­tise­ment sched­uled to run in the Jan. 6 daily edi­tions of The Wash­ing­ton Times. The re­quired pub­lic no­tice is not be­ing printed in any other news­pa­per or me­dia out­let.

The three-year ex­pi­ra­tion date is sup­posed to un­cover if a gun owner does some­thing that makes him sud­denly a dan­ger to so­ci­ety, such as com­mit­ting a felony, be­com­ing a drug ad­dict or be­ing in­vol­un­tar­ily com­mit­ted to a men­tal hos­pi­tal.

I re­cently asked D.C. Coun­cil Chair­man Phil Men­del­son, who wrote th­ese laws in 2009, why he couldn’t just run all our names through the FBI’s Na­tional In­stant Back­ground Checks Sys­tem (NICS), which uses in­for­ma­tion in­clud­ing name, So­cial Se­cu­rity num­ber, birth date and phys­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics to de­ter­mine if the ap­pli­cant is legally pro­hib­ited from own­ing a gun. NICS is used na­tion­ally for gun sales and trans­fers from li­censed dealer and ap­pli­ca­tions for a con­cealed-carry per­mit. (The records are not kept in or­der to pre­vent a na­tional gun reg­istry.)

“I don’t want name-based,” Mr. Men­del­son replied. “I can go in and pre­tend I’m Emily Miller if I have your name and So­cial Se­cu­rity num­ber. So name­based is not as good for iden­ti­fi­ca­tion as fin­ger­prints. And NICS doesn’t have all the in­for­ma­tion.”

Th­ese points are dis­puted in a De­cem­ber court fil­ing in the fed­eral court case known as Heller II, which is chal­leng­ing D.C.’s reg­is­tra­tion laws, in­clud­ing the rereg­is­tra­tion sec­tion. The plain­tiffs point out that NICS cov­ers all state and lo­cal databases. In a de­po­si­tion, the of­fi­cer in charge of the reg­is­tra­tion sec­tion for 20 years ad­mit­ted that the unit has not had a prob­lem with fake IDs. Fur­ther­more, crim­i­nals don’t go to the po­lice sta­tion be­fore buy­ing their guns; only the law abid­ing would do that.

The city is mak­ing a tidy profit from forc­ing ev­ery­one to rereg­is­ter. The fees, set in 2003, go to a gen­eral fund. It costs $13 for each gun reg­is­tered. For re­newals, the cost is the same, but it is per per­son, not per firearm. In ad­di­tion, gun own­ers pay $35 for elec­tronic fin­ger­print­ing for an FBI back­ground check.

While there is no charge for a NICS check, the FBI’s fin­ger­print back­ground check for a civil­ian is $18. This means D.C. is essen­tially charg­ing a to­tal $30 gun tax. Mul­ti­ply that times the min­i­mum 30,000 reg­is­trants and the city is rak­ing in about a cool $1 mil­lion from gun own­ers. No other right in the Con­sti­tu­tional re­quires a pay­ment.

“Re­quir­ing reg­is­tra­tion in the first place to ex­er­cise a con­sti­tu­tional right is ha­rass­ment enough,” Stephen Hal­brook, the lead at­tor­ney of Heller II, told me. “Can­cel­ing the reg­is­tra­tion ev­ery three years and charg­ing the equiv­a­lent of a poll tax to rereg­is­ter, and re­quir­ing cit­i­zens to be fin­ger­printed yet again, adds in­sult to in­jury. Crim­i­nals in the sex­of­fender reg­is­tra­tion sys­tem aren’t even sub­jected to that.”

The sched­ule for go­ing to po­lice head­quar­ters is some­what con­fus­ing. Reg­is­trants are given two-month win­dows that are loosely aligned to their birth dates. How­ever, Kelly O’Meara, one of Met­ro­pol­i­tan Po­lice Depart­ment Chief Cathy L. Lanier’s top deputies, said they de­cided to spread the re­newals over a two-year pe­riod to avoid long waits.

As a re­sult, the months don’t match up ex­actly. For ex­am­ple, if you are born be­tween Feb. 16 and March 31, your re­newal pe­riod is April 1 to June 30 this year. Firearms own­ers are not al­lowed to go to the Firearms Reg­is­tra­tion Sec­tion at any other time. I asked Ms. Meara what hap­pens if a gun owner comes in early. “We prob­a­bly would not turn them away,” she said. “We just won’t en­cour­age it by say­ing we are open to it.”

The Dis­trict started reg­is­ter­ing long guns (ri­fles and shot­guns) in 1976 af­ter is­su­ing a com­plete ban on hand­guns. In 2008, the Supreme Court over­turned the hand­gun ban in the land­mark Heller de­ci­sion. Af­ter­wards, the D.C. Coun­cil passed the most re­stric­tive gun-con­trol laws in the na­tion in an at­tempt to dis­suade peo­ple from ex­er­cis­ing their newly re­cov­ered right.

The pur­ported pur­pose of rereg­is­tra­tion is to keep firearms out of the hands of dan­ger­ous peo­ple. How­ever, the Dis­trict’s own wit­nesses in the Heller II de­po­si­tions “cite no stud­ies show­ing that pe­ri­odic reg­is­tra­tion re­newal or re­port­ing re­quire­ments re­duce crime or pro­tect po­lice of­fi­cers.”

While the po­lice are forced to put tens of thou­sands of in­no­cent peo­ple through a rereg­is­tra­tion process, the ac­tual crim­i­nals are hav­ing a field day in D.C. Homi­cides were up 15 per­cent in 2013 over 2012. Rob­beries with a gun rose 4 per­cent. The po­lice should be go­ing af­ter the bad guys and not wast­ing time on those of us who are ex­er­cis­ing our Sec­ond Amend­ment rights and abid­ing by the law. Emily Miller is a se­nior ed­i­tor of opin­ion for The Wash­ing­ton Times and au­thor of “Emily Gets Her Gun” (Reg­n­ery, 2013).

ILLUSTRATION BY ALEXAN­DER HUNTER/THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

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