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D.C. Gun Bill: Fact And Fiction

Friday, February 18, 2011

Earlier this month, Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) introduced H.R. 645 the "Second Amendment Enforcement Act," to eliminate harsh gun control laws imposed by the District of Columbia after the Supreme Court's decision in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008).

The bill will move the city's gun laws closer to the mainstream laws in place in most of America. For example, they will abolish the city's intentionally difficult and costly firearm registration requirement, its restrictions on carrying a gun for protection on private property, its post-Heller ban on hundreds of types of semi-automatic firearms denigrated as "assault weapons," its ban on standard defensive magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, and its California-style "microstamping" law and handgun "roster" system.

Anticipating that the D.C. Council will try to suppress gun ownership by preventing dealers from conducting business in the city, the bills provide for D.C. residents to buy handguns from firearm dealers in Maryland and Virginia, and prescribe reasonable conditions for the lawful transportation of firearms within the city.

A story appeared this week on Examiner.com calling into question NRA's support of what the misguided author claims is a "gun-control bill."  The author claims, among other things, that, "H.R. 645 would turn victims, who had their firearms stolen, into criminals if the gun was not locked up."

In fact, H.R. 645 would substantially scale back D.C. law, which currently creates a crime of "criminally negligent storage of a firearm," punishable by six months in jail, a $1,000 fine, or both -- even if no one is injured. (If someone is injured, the crime is a felony, punishable by five years in prison, a $5,000 fine, or both.)

In place of those provisions, the bill would eliminate punishment of victimless violations, only allowing a penalty in cases where a person is injured or killed. In all cases, the penalty would be a misdemeanor punishable by one year in jail, a $1,000 fine, or both.  The bill would also mandate extreme prosecutorial discretion in cases where the gun owner's child is accidentally injured or killed, barring all prosecution in those cases unless the gun owner was grossly negligent.

The Examiner story also claims, "H.R. 645 gives a landlord the right to decide who is allowed to keep a firearm in the home or business." In fact, the opposite is true.  What the bill actually says is that "Private persons or entities owning property in the District of Columbia may prohibit or restrict the possession of firearms on their property by any persons, other than law enforcement personnel when lawfully authorized to enter onto the property or lessees occupying residential or business premises." (Emphasis added.) So the bill actually prohibits landlords from banning gun possession by tenants.

The Examiner story also accuses NRA of selling out on Right-to-Carry in D.C., failing to realize or acknowledge that what the bill actually does is restore D.C.'s pre-Heller discretionary permit system.

Because D.C. officials have demonstrated hostility toward the Second Amendment--imposing a "microstamping" law, "assault weapon" ban, ban on magazines holding over 10 rounds, and "unsafe handgun" ban (which the city modified after the ban was challenged in court)--the purpose of the bill is to prohibit the city from enacting new laws designed to thwart the exercise of the right to arms.

And therein lies the critical point that the Examiner author fails to grasp.  The bill wasn't intended to try and fix every single problem with D.C.'s gun laws.  Rather, it is a bill that is capable of passing both houses of Congress, that will fix the major problems identified in the Heller decision, thereby allowing ordinary D.C. residents to own guns and store them in their homes, loaded and ready for self-defense.

H.R. 645 is a good bill that NRA will continue to support.  As NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris W. Cox recently said, "NRA remains committed to restoring the right to self-defense for law-abiding citizens in Washington, D.C., by whatever legal or legislative means necessary."

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.