Murders in the District of Columbia are not nearly as common as they were a generation ago, when the city’s crack cocaine gangs and former handgun ban held sway. However, murders in D.C. are up by a third thus far in 2015, as compared to the first eight months of last year. And while the local police union faults the city’s police chief, Cathy Lanier, for dismantling units that had kept drug gangs at bay, Lanier is pointing an accusatory finger at guns.
Lanier speculates that changes in gun laws around the country and the popularity of “high-capacity” magazines are responsible for D.C.’s worsening murder situation. The theory is odd, however. As the Washington Post reports, many of D.C.’s murders result from stabbings, not gunfire. And, in 2013, the way that neighboring Maryland changed its gun laws was by banning magazines holding more than 10 rounds, banning “assault weapons,” and requiring permits to purchase handguns. At the same time, similar gun and magazine bans were also imposed in Connecticut and New York.
Instead of blaming guns, Lanier might do well to consider a few other factors. In June, the Washington Post reportedthat about 500 officers had left the city’s police department in the previous 18 months. Last week, the newspaper reported that 55 of the city’s then-91 murders were still open cases and, according to Chief Lanier herself, more than 10 percent of D.C.’s murders involve violent felons recently let out of prison. This week, Lanier even said that some of D.C.’s murder suspects have as many as a dozen prior arrests for violent crimes.
Lanier should know there’s not a single new gun law in any state that has made it easier for members of narcotics gangs or anyone else in D.C. to obtain guns. Federal law prohibits anyone other than D.C.’s one firearm dealer from transferring a handgun to a resident of the District and prohibits anyone from selling a handgun to anyone under age 18.
Despite its history of restrictive gun laws, the District of Columbia’s murder rate has been three to 10 times higher than the national rate for the last 50 years. The expression, “people kill people” is perhaps nowhere so apt, as it is in the District. To be sure, the District has a problem. But it’s not the ability, elsewhere in the United States, of law-abiding people to exercise their fundamental right to keep and bear arms.