Some D.C. Residents Say It's Too Hard To Get A Gun

The Supreme Court ruled last week that states and localities cannot ban handguns intended for self-defense. That could overturn local bans, just the way a similar ruling two years ago ended a ban in Washington, D.C.

Hundreds of district residents have taken advantage of the new law. Still, many residents complain it's still too difficult to get a gun in the nation's capital.

Costs And Fees

The toughest thing about getting a gun in the district is finding a gun store. There are none. You have to drive to a neighboring state like Maryland to buy a weapon.

George Lyon i i

hide captionAttorney George Lyon lives in a row house in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of D.C. with his wife, his dog and his Glock. He was one of the plaintiffs in the suit that overturned the original gun ban and shoots regularly. But he says he thinks the regulations are still too strict.

Larry Abramson/NPR
George Lyon

Attorney George Lyon lives in a row house in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of D.C. with his wife, his dog and his Glock. He was one of the plaintiffs in the suit that overturned the original gun ban and shoots regularly. But he says he thinks the regulations are still too strict.

Larry Abramson/NPR

Maryland Small Arms in Upper Marlboro, Md., has its own firing range just outside the Washington Beltway. The shop deals mostly to law enforcement, but hobbyists can buy everything from pistols to a target with a picture of Osama bin Laden pointing an assault weapon at you.

In the showroom, salesman Jack Donald can sell you a gun. But if you have a D.C. driver's license, you'll have to transfer the weapon to someone with a federal firearms license in D.C.

"He takes possession of the gun from us," Donald says. "He charges a transfer fee — I believe it's $125."

Then the federal licensee gives your gun back to you. But you're still not ready to go, Donald notes.

"You have to be fingerprinted, you have to submit photographs, you have to take a class that's supposed to consist of four hours of classroom and an hour of range time with ... a District of Columbia approved instructor," he explains.

That can bring the cost of registering to more than $500. That's a lot of work and expense, but people do it all the time.

Constitutional Rights

Attorney George Lyon lives in a row house in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of D.C. with his wife, his dog and his Glock. He was one of the plaintiffs in the suit that overturned the original gun ban, and he shoots regularly. He figured out how to get a handgun. But, he says, imagine a woman being stalked who fears for her life.

D.C. Mayor Fenty reacting to the handgun ban was lifted two years ago. i i

hide captionTwo years ago, when the D.C. handgun ban was lifted, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty said, "I am disappointed in the court's ruling and believe that more handguns in the District of Columbia will only lead to more handgun violence."

Melissa Golden/Getty Images
D.C. Mayor Fenty reacting to the handgun ban was lifted two years ago.

Two years ago, when the D.C. handgun ban was lifted, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty said, "I am disappointed in the court's ruling and believe that more handguns in the District of Columbia will only lead to more handgun violence."

Melissa Golden/Getty Images

"She has to go to the D.C. Police Department, she's got to take the test, she's got to have the background check, and she's go to wait 10 days while she could potentially be killed," Lyon says in frustration.

Compare that to nearby Virginia, where you can walk out with a gun within minutes of purchasing.

Nevertheless, nearly 1,200 people have registered previously banned guns since the Supreme Court ruling two years ago.

D.C. Councilman Phil Mendelson says that shows the regulations do exactly what they're supposed to do — identify the bad guys, but leave the good guys alone.

"For the Metropolitan Police Department, when they find somebody with a gun, if the person doesn't have a registration certificate, which is typically the case, they can arrest the person on the spot because they know that person has an illegal gun," Mendelson says.

D.C.'s Restrictions True To Supreme Court Ruling

But the man who started the whole hullabaloo, Richard Heller, says the current regulations make a mockery of the court's decision. He's challenging everything, from the cost of the whole procedure to the limit on high-capacity ammunition clips.

Heller argues that "it's unconstitutional to be forced to pay fees to exercise your constitutional right," and says the only reasonable restrictions prevent sales to felons, children and those with a history of mental illness.

A district court has upheld the D.C. process, but Heller is appealing.

Kristen Rand of the Violence Policy Center says D.C.'s restrictions are true to what the Supreme Court has said: Cities do not have to license weapons deemed "dangerous and unusual." That includes big ammo magazines.

"That is the thread that runs through every major mass shooting in America since the McDonald's shooting in 1984," Rand says. "The perpetrator uses either a handgun or an assault weapon equipped with a high-capacity ammunition magazine."

What's happened to crime? Homicides were down in the first year after the ban ended. That's too soon to declare a trend, but predictions of "blood on the streets" have not come to pass, either. Many gun foes here appear to have actually made peace with the ban on gun bans. Their biggest worry now is that Congress, which can overturn D.C. laws, keeps trying to nix the city's remaining gun limits.

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