Washington’s New Gun Rules Shift Constitutional Debate

"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.

Unites States Congress Seal

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 Here, the battle over whether residents can own guns has been replaced by a fresh debate over whether lawmakers can restrict legal gun ownership.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. Read More

Source: Wall Street Journal

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