Washington, D.C., has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation. This is no accident. Following the Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, which invalidated the District’s bans on handguns and on possession of operable firearms in the home for self-defense, the D.C. Council immediately went to work on creating the strictest guns laws they could think of, supposedly to “comply” with the Court’s decision. Litigation on those laws began almost immediately and continues to this day.
At the centerpiece of D.C.’s gun control regime is an elaborate registration scheme, the absurdities of which have been highlighted by media outlets such as the Washington Post and the Washington Times, and most recently in the book Emily Gets Her Gun, by Washington Times senior opinion editor, Emily Miller.
Possession of an unregistered firearm is a crime in Washington, D.C. Carrying even a registered firearm outside one’s home is also presumptively unlawful. Various categories of firearms, as well as certain magazines, are banned and ineligible for registration. Transfer or disposal of a firearm, except to, or by, a federally-licensed dealer (FFL), is strictly prohibited. If the recipient of a transferred firearm is not an FFL, he or she must possess a registration certificate for it. Even possession of a single round of ammunition by a person without a registration certificate is a crime, and “ammunition” includes not just intact cartridges and shells, but their individual components as well.
The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) strictly enforces these rules. Media outlets have even reported that D.C. police officers are under orders to look for violations of the ammunition ban involving tourists with empty casings or hulls. As story after story has shown, moreover, no offense is too inconsequential to escape arrest and prosecution, even when officials have absolutely no evidence of violent or criminal intent on the part of the “offender.”
Another trend has become evident, however, as D.C. officials have demonstrated a curious willingness to look the other way on technical violations of these rules when they are committed for the “greater good” of promoting gun control.
The dubious practice of gun turn-ins (often erroneously referred to as “buy-backs,” as if the police originally owned all guns and are merely buying back what was formerly theirs) is well known to those who follow the debate over the Second Amendment. Sometimes they are handled by the police. Sometimes they are handled by private entities with police cooperation or agreement. In all cases, however, violations of the law are assumed to occur. Yet the police are willing to suspend enforcement for these events, supposedly for the greater good of “getting guns off the street.”
During the national debate this year over a proposal to ban so-called “high-capacity magazines,” a prominent newsman, during a segment filmed at a D.C. studio, confronted NRA’s Wayne LaPierre on national television with a magazine banned under D.C. law. Although it was later revealed that the newsman had been told by MPD officials that the planned stunt was illegal, he was given a pass and not prosecuted. After all, the D.C. Attorney General’s Office decided, “the intent of the temporary possession and short display of the magazine was to promote the First Amendment purpose of informing an ongoing public debate about firearms policy in the United States.”
Only last week, we reported on yet another possible violation of D.C. firearms laws to further this “debate.” In that episode, MPD Chief of Police Cathy Lanier delivered several firearms and magazines to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to be used as props in Feinstein’s bid to re-energize her longstanding campaign to re-enact federal legislation banning so-called “assault weapons.” The MPD was not, however, so solicitous toward Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who were refused permission to bring a hunting rifle and an AR-15 to a debate to illustrate their own points against the proposed ban.
This Sunday, the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., in conjunction with the Children’s Defense Fund, is set to host a “forum on ending the gun violence epidemic.” Speakers will include the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which supports a federal assault weapons ban and other gun control measures advocated by Barack Obama.
While that in itself is not particularly noteworthy, and while we certainly recognize the Cathedral’s right to advocate for its religious views, what did catch our eye was the Children’s Defense Fund’s description of another event scheduled to occur after the forum:
“You’re invited to join us on the Cathedral grounds after the forum as blacksmiths turn police confiscated guns into garden tools in a modern-day interpretation of the biblical passage about beating swords into plowshares. These illegal guns will be transformed into life-affirming garden tools that will be donated to community gardens to grow healthy food for families.”
This leads us to wonder just how the planners of the event are to obtain these “police confiscated guns” and how this event could possibly be considered legal under D.C. law. Is the MPD making yet another exception for what it considers the greater good? While certain exceptions exist even to D.C.’s regulations, we fail to see which of them account for the transfer, possibly by the MPD, of firearms to blacksmiths so they can “beat” on them with their tools in a publicly-accessible demonstration. Does the MPD consider beating on firearms with tools to present less of a safety risk than an empty shotgun hull in the bed of a pick-up truck traveling through the District?
We can only wonder whether a peaceful counter-demonstration using Joe Biden-approved double-barreled shotguns to extol the virtues of the Second Amendment would be similarly tolerated. Recent events suggest it would not.
Gun control laws have traditionally been written to be overbroad and then selectively enforced. Eminent scholars, for example, have shown how this technique was used as a tool of racial oppression during the Reconstruction era. Certainly D.C.’s gun control laws are overbroad, and increasing evidence suggests they are being selectively enforced to promote a political agenda that seeks to portray firearms as a social scourge to which ever-increasing and more punitive gun control is the answer.
Next, you won’t believe who has gone to jail for gun possession
This is not merely an academic issue for a growing list of political prisoners whose otherwise innocent and non-aggressive conduct put them on the wrong side of D.C.’s gun control. This includes Baptist Pastor William Duncan, who, on a holiday trip to D.C., found himself and his family (including two small children) on the receiving end of aS.W.A.T. response after he disclosed to a security guard that he had two handguns under the seat of his vehicle. Like many visitors to the Nation’s Capitol, Duncan was unaware that this out-of-state carry permit was not recognized in the District. Pastor Duncan was arrested, his firearms were confiscated, and he was held over the Independence Day weekend in a D.C. jail.
Similar stories abound, including that of a Marine amputee who had the misfortune of having a flat tire while driving through Washington, D.C., with a 9mm pistol in his vehicle. Like Pastor Duncan, Cpl. Melroy H. Cort had an out-of-state license to carry his gun. At the time of his arrest, he was on his way to an extended stay at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. His commanding officer had advised him to take the gun to the armory on Walter Reed’s base for safekeeping. Nevertheless, Cpl. Cort was subjected to felony prosecution under D.C.’s firearm laws and eventually convicted of a misdemeanor count of illegal possession of ammunition.
While we could go on and on with these accounts, suffice to say that if the organizers of Sunday’s event have not cleared their conduct with the MPD, they face potentially serious consequences. If they have, and the MPD has determined to stand down or even to participate, we smell a rat.
We certainly hope nobody gets in trouble or has any accidents at the event occurring this Sunday at the National Cathedral. Nevertheless, we believe that overbroad laws unequally enforced to advance a political agenda constitute an abuse of authority. If MPD is to carve out exceptions to D.C.’s draconian gun control laws to avoid absurd and unjust consequences, hopefully it will do so on an equal opportunity basis. Better yet, hopefully the D.C. Council, or the U.S. Congress, will finally embrace the Second Amendment and reform D.C.’s unreasonable firearm laws.