D.C. gun owners face registration renewal
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).