PDA

View Full Version : WSJ New gun rules shift debate


gunsmith
05-16-2010, 6:10 PM
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704093204575216680860962548.html?m od=WSJ_hpp_sections_news


WASHINGTON—Mark Snyder, an amateur biathlete, wanted to buy a .22-caliber bolt-action rifle for target shooting and figured the process would take about a week. After nearly six weeks, six visits to police departments and $300 in fees, he secured his rifle.

"I was not expecting a free ride," said Mr. Snyder, 45, "but this is an obstacle course they put in place."

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the District of Columbia's 32-year ban on handguns in 2008, a victory for the gun-rights lobby that seemed to promise a more permissive era in America's long tussle over gun ownership. Since then, the city has crafted rules that are proving a new, powerful deterrent to residents who want to buy firearms.

Legal gun owners must be registered by the city, a red flag for many in the gun-rights community concerned that registration lists could be used to confiscate firearms. The District limits the number of bullets a gun can hold and the type of firearm residents can buy. It requires that by next year manufacturers sell guns equipped with a special identification technology—one that hasn't yet been adopted by the industry.
The Supreme Court is now deliberating a case challenging handgun bans in Chicago and Oak Park, Ill., which are similar to the former ban in Washington, D.C., and is widely expected to side with gun-rights groups. The experience of Washington, D.C., however, suggests a pro-gun ruling by the Supreme Court doesn't mean an end to the matter. Here, the battle over whether residents can own guns has been replaced by a fresh debate over whether lawmakers can restrict legal gun ownership.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia's non-voting representative in Congress, is blunt about the point of the city's laws: discouraging gun ownership.

"To get them you have to go through a bureaucracy that makes it difficult," she said in an interview. Her constituents tend to oppose firearms because of gun violence, she said. "Nobody thinks we would have fewer shootings and fewer homicides if we had more relaxed gun laws."

Kenneth Barnes, 65, became a D.C. gun-law activist after his son was shot to death in his clothing store in 2001. He supports the city's current gun law. "I have no issue with the right to bear arms," but the Supreme Court's decision gave the city the right to set gun laws for its citizens, he said. "What we're talking about is self determination."

In 2009, the first full year the law was in effect, homicides in the city dropped to 143 from 186 in 2008. The 2009 total was the lowest since 1966.

In its 5-4 decision in 2008, known as District of Columbia v. Heller, the court ruled that the Second Amendment includes an individual right to self-defense. In doing so, it struck down the city's 1976 ordinance that effectively banned possession of handguns. The ruling offered little advice on what level of regulation might be permissible, giving the city room to maneuver within the ruling's broad outlines.
One question now is what impact Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan might have on future gun cases. Her public record on gun rights is limited primarily to positions she held as a Clinton White House lawyer and as a clerk for the late Justice Thurgood Marshall. The National Rifle Association has said it has some concerns and will work with the Senate to formulate some "tough questions" for the nominee on gun rights. With the five-judge majority that ruled on Heller intact, Ms. Kagan's impact on gun rights cases could be limited in the near future.
Gun-control supporters say the District is acting within the Constitution, in that Heller didn't outlaw all gun control. "From our perspective, there's a broad range of gun-control steps that can be taken that would be constitutional post-Heller," said Chad Ramsey of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, said the city's new rules strike against the spirit of the Supreme Court's decision. "Can you go out and buy guns in D.C. and defend yourself as the Supreme Court said you should be able to? No. The citizens can't experience the freedom from a practical level. What good is winning it philosophically?"

In the months since the Heller decision through April, the city has registered 1,071 guns, including 756 handguns and 315 "long" guns, such as rifles. That's a rate of about 181 guns per 100,000 residents. Before the Supreme Court decision, the rate of registered guns in Washington was close to zero.

Across the U.S., federal law-enforcement agencies estimate the total number of guns is between 200 million and 350 million, which results in a rate between 65,000 to 114,000 guns per 100,000 people nationally. A 2006 survey by the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center found gun ownership in 34% of all homes.

Right now, the legal advantage lies with the District. In a federal District Court ruling in March, Judge Ricardo Urbina upheld the city's gun law, writing that the Supreme Court didn't rule gun registration "unconstitutional as a general matter." The judge concluded the city had the power to limit the kinds of firearms permissible and the size of ammunition magazines.

Gun-rights groups and several plaintiffs, including Mr. Snyder the biathlete, are appealing the ruling. Mr. Synder joined the lawsuit after calling the NRA to complain about the registration process. Stephen Halbrook, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, predicts the case will come back to the Supreme Court for a second review of District gun laws.

The battle in the District stands in contrast with other areas of the country where gun-rights advocates have been enjoying success. Last month, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed a law permitting residents 21 years and older to carry concealed weapons without permits. On April 19, armed protesters assembled in federal parks in Virginia, including Gravelly Point Park directly across the Potomac River from Washington, taking advantage of a law signed in 2009 by President Barack Obama that allows visitors to carry loaded firearms into national parks as long as the state allows it.

After the Heller decision, the District's city council passed the Firearms Registration Amendment Act of 2008.

Under the law, would-be gun owners must go through a process requiring fingerprints, photographs and the detailing of some job history.

Applicants have to take a 20-question test on the District's gun laws and regulations. There is a five-hour class, including at least one hour at a gun range, although the city doesn't have a public one. Buyers are required to find trainers from a list approved by police. There is a vision exam, and once the process is complete, the gun must be taken back to the police to be fired for a ballistic identification.

The registration expires after three years and must be renewed. If it lapses, the police can seize the gun, and for a first offense, the owner could be jailed for up to one year and fined $1,000.

The law designates certain guns as assault weapons that can't be bought in the city. It limits the size of the ammunition-feeding devices to no more than 10 bullets. Many common semi-automatic pistols can hold more than that.

In 2011, the city will require semi-automatic pistols owned in the city to be produced with devices that imprint shell casings with a code or serial number as part of the firing process. That would make it easier to link shell casings to guns. The technology, known as micro-stamping or micro-engraving, is in its infancy, and most manufacturers haven't yet adopted it.

Peter Nickles, the District's Attorney General, acknowledged the law requires technology that "may not exist right now. But if you build it they will come. While we are not there yet, there is a lot of science out there and a lot of development."

Many jurisdictions around the U.S. have elements of the District of Columbia's law, but few have all of them. Only Hawaii has a gun registration process, in place since 1988, as strict as the District's and only California has a micro-stamping law, though it hasn't been implemented yet. Gun-rights and gun-control groups agree the city's law is among the most restrictive in the country.

Attorney General Nickles contends the District is on sound legal footing. "The effort that was made by the city council was to come up with a law that balanced the Supreme Court's requirement that we authorize firearms for use in self-defense in the home with public safety," he said. "I think we struck the right balance."

The city is surrounded by jurisdictions that don't have the same laws as the District, Mr. Nickles said. The result is there is a proliferation of illegal guns in the city. "There's no denying the fact that we have a helluva lot of illegal guns on the streets," he said, but the solution isn't to "arm everyone."

Even without the new law, Washington, D.C., presents obstacles to the would-be gun buyer. There are no gun stores in the city. It has few federally licensed firearms dealers—businesses that can transfer a handgun into the city that was bought elsewhere.

The city changed its zoning laws in 2009 to permit gun stores, but no business has tried to open one, according to the Attorney General's office. Only one federally licensed firearms dealer, C.S. Exchange, is performing transfers to the public. Under the law, handguns bought outside the city must be transferred through a licensed gun dealer in the city.

Charles Sykes, owner of C.S. Exchange, conducts business by appointment only. He estimates fees for registration, testing, fingerprinting and transfers can double the cost of a gun. He doesn't think demand would support a fully operational gun store. These days, he can go weeks without making a transfer. "At first you had a rush of people going down to police headquarters to pick up information" on buying guns after the 2008 court decision, he said. "But they didn't rush to get firearms."

Lenwood Johnson sits on a District advisory commission, a body elected to represent neighborhoods with various city authorities. In January, he talked about owning an unregistered gun in a short article in the Washington City Paper, an alternative weekly.

Two days later, he said, the D.C. Metropolitan Police appeared at his apartment on a Saturday and asked to search it. They left after finding nothing.

The following Tuesday, Mr. Johnson, 50, went to the police's gun-registration section and picked up an information packet.

gunsmith
05-16-2010, 6:11 PM
Three days later, police came to his apartment again, with a warrant, after he'd left for work. "They searched every inch, every box, every drawer, the dirty clothes hamper, the cookie jar, and didn't find anything," Mr. Johnson said.

Mr. Johnson said he keeps the gun with relatives in Maryland and decided not to bring the gun into the city and register it. "After what I went through with the District, it's just not worth it." A long-time NRA member, he said he is not an activist and doesn't want to draw attention by raising a ruckus. "I just want to legally own a gun," he said.

Lt. Jon Shelton, who commands the firearms-registration section and gun-control unit, said police went to Mr. Johnson after his public statements that he owned an unregistered gun. "We would be neglecting our duty if we did not."

After the Supreme Court's Heller decision, Lt. Shelton, who has been an officer 22 years, said he expected a "much larger response," than there has been in terms of residents buying firearms. "I had geared up. I anticipated it."

Mr. Snyder, the biathlete, said he contacted the registration division Jan. 20, 2009, about registering a rifle if he bought one. "I wanted to do everything by the book," he said.

He says he was told by police he wouldn't be required to submit to the new training requirements, which didn't go into effect until April 2009. "The steps they gave me were to get the paperwork, buy the gun, have the dealer fill out the paperwork, return the paperwork to the police with a photo, take a test with 20 questions and go through fingerprinting."

He learned later about a safety course he needed. He also had a 10-day waiting period. It took days before an approved trainer called back to set up an appointment. By the time he finished the process, he said, it was Feb. 26, and the $300 in fees he paid had doubled the cost of the rifle.

OleCuss
05-16-2010, 7:11 PM
Thank you for a very interesting article.

We are going to need a SCOTUS ruling requiring strict scrutiny. I have some hope that we'll get it with McDonald - but not much hope.

Fyathyrio
05-16-2010, 7:21 PM
I like this little tidbit...

Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia's non-voting representative in Congress, is blunt about the point of the city's laws: discouraging gun ownership.

"To get them you have to go through a bureaucracy that makes it difficult," she said in an interview. Her constituents tend to oppose firearms because of gun violence, she said. "Nobody thinks we would have fewer shootings and fewer homicides if we had more relaxed gun laws."


Two lines later it's...

In 2009, the first full year the law was in effect, homicides in the city dropped to 143 from 186 in 2008. The 2009 total was the lowest since 1966.

joelogic
05-16-2010, 7:40 PM
I like that there are 1.14 guns per person in the US.

If I had to guess I would say the average gun owner owns 5 guns, so really only 1 in 5 americans is a gun owner. Lets get that number moving up!

gunsmith
05-16-2010, 8:29 PM
what burns me up is getting a search warrant for his "un registered gun" jeepers! where are all the radlibs yelling fascist?! What a bunch of whiny cretins, I think every gun owner in the country should call DC Metro Police (202) 727-9099 and tell them they have "un registered guns"

trashman
05-16-2010, 9:02 PM
what burns me up is getting a search warrant for his "un registered gun" jeepers!

That bothers me too but (I speak as a former DC resident) he shoulda considered not writing about it in a published article. This kind of behavior on the part of the police should not be a surprise to anybody who lives there.

--Neill

2009_gunner
05-16-2010, 9:33 PM
I hope the Heller five read this article, and have it in mind as they craft McDonald.

bwiese
05-16-2010, 10:21 PM
Alan... choosing the color of yet again another fine sports car paid for by DC.

Telperion
05-16-2010, 10:37 PM
Alan... choosing the color of yet again another fine sports car paid for by DC.

Did DC even pay up for Heller yet?

bwiese
05-16-2010, 10:49 PM
Did DC even pay up for Heller yet?

I believe DC's still trying to act like Heller is not a "major case", which has lower billing ability.

Of course Alan's hours proving/demonstrating otherwise will be billable on top of the "special" reimbursement status payable in major precedent setting cases, taking more money from a broke DC that can barely keep the dead bodies refrigerated in their morgue (no joke - read Christopher Hitchens' article about DC a few years ago).

Oh - and interest accrues on this too ;)

PonchoTA
05-16-2010, 11:01 PM
I love this:
In 2009, the first full year the law was in effect, homicides in the city dropped to 143 from 186 in 2008.

That's a 23% decrease, in one year alone, based on the possibility that someone might have a gun. Can you imagine how low it will drop when the criminals find out that more people DO have a gun??

:thumbsup:


.

gunsmith
05-17-2010, 10:09 AM
I'm praying for strict scrutiny, I hope the Conservatives remember the scolding they got at the State of the Union and sock it to the admin with a great ruling

Californio
05-17-2010, 10:40 AM
If the FEES can double the cost of a firearm would that be a Civil Rights claim that only rich people could afford to pay and low income people are being discriminated against. It seems more and more that government is using a FEE based structure that yells loud and clear that only the people that can afford the freight can enjoy an enumerated right.

N6ATF
05-17-2010, 11:23 AM
Every district government official should be held in contempt of court and removed from office in handcuffs.

Sinixstar
05-17-2010, 11:37 AM
If the FEES can double the cost of a firearm would that be a Civil Rights claim that only rich people could afford to pay and low income people are being discriminated against. It seems more and more that government is using a FEE based structure that yells loud and clear that only the people that can afford the freight can enjoy an enumerated right.

I would like to see an expansion of the 24th (Abolition of Poll Tax) to cover this. Make it illegal to impose any kind of tax, fee, or surcharge to exercise your constitutional rights. At that point - if a state wants to impose unreasonable fees, they have to budget for it. It's a much harder pill to swallow imposing some of these costs and laws if it's coming out of pocket to do so. Things like 2A restrictions become not just a political gun issue - but a budget issue as well.

John Sukey
05-17-2010, 11:46 AM
What makes the statistics laughable is that they count EVERY homicide as being gun related.
There are lies, damm lies and statistics.

N6ATF
05-17-2010, 11:58 AM
In a way, they are. Armed society, polite society. Most would not have happened if the law-abiding victims had been openly armed.

gunsmith
05-17-2010, 4:00 PM
I would like to see an expansion of the 24th (Abolition of Poll Tax) to cover this. Make it illegal to impose any kind of tax, fee, or surcharge to exercise your constitutional rights. At that point - if a state wants to impose unreasonable fees, they have to budget for it. It's a much harder pill to swallow imposing some of these costs and laws if it's coming out of pocket to do so. Things like 2A restrictions become not just a political gun issue - but a budget issue as well.

a great idea, probably never happen, but a great idea.

stix213
05-17-2010, 4:08 PM
Quotes from the article

"Nobody thinks we would have fewer shootings and fewer homicides if we had more relaxed gun laws."

Funny how banning handguns allowed the city to have one of the highest homicide rates in the country...

The city is surrounded by jurisdictions that don't have the same laws as the District, Mr. Nickles said. The result is there is a proliferation of illegal guns in the city. "There's no denying the fact that we have a helluva lot of illegal guns on the streets," he said, but the solution isn't to "arm everyone."

Why not?

POLICESTATE
05-17-2010, 4:12 PM
I like how in DC they serve a sneak and peek search warrant on you when you're not at home because you want to exercise your rights. Good stuff right there.

gunsmith
05-18-2010, 2:14 PM
Quotes from the article


Why not?
why not "arm everyone" ... they should buy their own! ;-)

Cos
05-18-2010, 10:51 PM
Very good article (a longish though) on Herller's case has been published a coupla days ago
http://www.independent.org/pdf/research_articles/2010-05-01-halbrook.pdf
The author has wrote "THE FOUNDERS’ SECOND AMENDMENT: Origins of the Right to Bear Arms" book - a must read in my opinion.
Enjoy