D.C. may soon be a city with virtually no gun restrictions.
The D.C. Personal Protection Act, sponsored by Rep. Mark Souder (R-Indiana), would end a ban on handguns and semiautomatic weapons and eliminate the criminal penalties for owning unregistered guns. A majority of representatives are sponsoring the bill.
“We’re furious about it,” said Mary Cuthbert, who serves on an Advisory Neighborhood Commission in Southeast D.C., which has a high murder rate. “That law helped cut down on a lot of homicide in this city. I think everyone in every state needs to go to their congressman and fight for them to put it back.”
But a representative from Souder’s office said that the ban has been ineffective at combating murder and is causing more harm than good for District residents.
“Clearly, the ban on gun ownership imposed on law abiding citizens hasn’t worked,” said Martin Green, a spokesman in Souder’s office. “While they have been disarmed, criminals have successfully gotten guns and used them in violent crimes. We see this as nothing more than as a failed experiment in gun control policy.”
Green said that from 1976, the year the ban was introduced, through 1991, the city’s homicide rate doubled, exceeding the national rate.
“D.C. has earned time and time again the sad distinction of being the murder capital of the country,” Green said. “While D.C.’s murder rate has increased 200 percent, the national rate during that same time rose by a comparable 12 percent.”
Green’s statistics may be misleading – 136 homicides have been committed this year, down 23 percent from a year ago. If the trend continues, D.C. will see less than 200 killings in a year for the first time since 1986. Cuthbert said allowing greater access to guns is not going to protect anybody, regardless of Souder’s statistics.
“Yes, we’ve lost a lot of lives with the shooting, but it’s going to be worse,” she said.
Green also pointed out that eliminating the gun ban, which was instituted by the city, is perfectly within Congress’s jurisdiction.
“As far as we’re concerned, the statistics are dramatically in our favor,” he said. “Constitutionally, it’s well within Congress’s means … to exercise exclusive legislation in all matters whatsoever over the District. It’s time that D.C. residents have their freedoms returned to them.”
He compared some local citizens’ attitudes to that of southerners who championed states rights during the Civil War. Souder told The Washington Post, “We didn’t allow the District to have home rule on the selling of slaves, either.”
Green added, “We fought a Civil War over the issue of whether federal powers can be usurped by states, and that was settled. All Americans have the fundamental right to self-defense, and so should the District of Columbia.”
Green also said the gun ban made little sense because criminals could gain access to guns in neighboring states.
“No one is going to try to contend that criminals don’t have guns,” he said. “They can get them, if from no place else, from Virginia or Maryland, which don’t have such draconian gun bans.”
Green admitted that Souder and his office had no dialogue with local law enforcement officials before proposing the repeal of the ban. While a Metropolitan Police spokesman said his office tries to remain “apolitical,” he said Police Chief Charles Ramsey’s position on the assault weapons ban, which Congress allowed to expire this weak, was clear.
“Our streets, our homes, our citizens and our police officers will face great danger unless the federal ban on assault weapons is renewed,” Ramsey told The Associated Press earlier this week.
At a press conference Monday, the District’s delegate to Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, said Congress was hurting her city’s ability to fight gun violence.