In 2017, arguing in defense of a since-invalidated concealed carry licensing regime, politicians for the District of Columbia alleged that “any increase in handgun carrying in the District’s densely populated public areas would increase the risk of criminal violence and public harm,” and that, “under a less restrictive regime, residents would likely suffer from ‘substantially higher rates of aggravated assault, rape, robbery and murder’...”
According to a recent Washington Post article, District of Columbia councilmember Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), Chair of Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, expressed the same kind of trepidation now that thousands of people hold active concealed carry licenses issued by the District. This, he claims, puts local law enforcement officers “at greater risk.” In addition, councilmember Allen feels that lawful carrying is “unnerving to the public, and it troubles me.”
His concerns are echoed by a “gun violence prevention activist,” a D.C resident who told the newspaper that the presence of firearms, even legal firearms, “makes her feel less safe,” because “people who feel the need to come into my city with a concealed weapon …are afraid [and] [t]hat fear drives people to do very dangerous, deadly things.”
Looking closely at the facts, though, there’s nothing to objectively substantiate these fears. By definition, a concealed handgun is not visible, with no potential to unsettle fellow citizens. Research has shown that concealed carry licensees tend to be “extremely law abiding.”
In addition, the District of Columbia’s concealed carry licensing regime is one of the most demanding in the nation. Anyone under indictment or convicted of the specified crimes, or who is an “alcoholic, addict, or habitual user of a controlled dangerous substance,” or has “exhibited [a] propensity for violence or instability,” or suffers or has suffered “in the previous five years from any mental disorder, illness, or condition that creates a substantial risk that he or she is a danger to himself or herself or others,” is ineligible for a license.
Besides criminal background checks, potential licensees must undergo at least 16 hours of training from a firearms instructor certified by the Metro Police Department (MPD), plus “at least” two hours of range training and shooting in a prescribed qualification course. And, because the District does not recognize permits and licenses from other jurisdictions, those who already have a concealed carry license from another state must apply for a license to carry in the District and satisfy its training requirements before being able to lawfully carry within D.C.
D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham confirms that there have been no complaints from his rank and file officers regarding the presence of legal firearms on the streets of the Nation’s capital. “The extent of crime we have involving legally registered firearms is very, very low.”
According to the chief, other factors drive the rate of gun crime in the District.
In a 2018 editorial, Chief Newsham (along with Jessie K. Liu, the then U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia) expressed his dismay at the District of Columbia Sentencing Commission’s revised guidelines, which would “decrease sentences for felons convicted of illegally possessing a gun in the District and … reduce the impact of prior felon-in-possession convictions on any future sentence an offender might incur.” The relaxed penalties “embolden criminals, demoralize law enforcement and enable violent offenders to return more quickly to terrorizing the very communities who are calling out to the government for help.”
In an article published in March, Chief Newsham explained that in 2018, about half of the suspects arrested for homicide in the District had a prior gun offense. Almost all had a criminal history, with an average of ten previous arrests. A third were subject to pretrial or parole supervision at the time they committed the homicide. Out of the 16 people charged with homicide in the District in early 2020 (15 of which involved a firearm), he noted all were out on pretrial release, regardless of their serious pending charges.
What is much more likely to “unnerve the public” and “trouble” local officials is the prospect of additional habitués of the criminal class roaming “the District’s densely populated public areas.” Despite councilmember Allen’s distress over the pretty-much-zero safety threat posed by law-abiding licensees, last year he sponsored a bill to get actual convicted felons back on the streets. If enacted, “The Second Look Act of 2019” would have expanded the eligibility for early release of those convicted of serious crimes. Offenders who committed crimes as adults but before their 25th birthday (rather than the current limit, their 18th birthday) could seek a sentence reduction, provided the offender had served at least 15 years in prison and was able to convince the court that he or she no longer posed a danger to the community.
In an editorial (“D.C. has gone too far on criminal-justice reform”), the Washington Post reported that beneficiaries of the proposed law “would include a kidnapper who participated in gang-raping a victim inside a stolen van; the murderer of a 7-year-old boy; and a killer who, having stuffed his victim’s corpse in a trash can, proceeded to execute the victim’s girlfriend for fear she could be a witness.”
Allen’s bill was also opposed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. In a strongly worded press release, federal prosecutors pointed out that the bill would allow the release of a defendant after 15 years in prison “regardless of the original sentence imposed, if the court determines that the defendant is not a danger to the community or to any person, despite the ‘brutality or coldblooded’ nature of the offense.” Approximately 583 violent criminals (including murderers and rapists) would be immediately eligible to apply for release. “Bureau of Prisons data suggests that of the 583 eligible criminals who could apply for early release under the proposed Amendment, one in three will reoffend within three years of release.” The “proposed legislation is not evidence-based, does little to protect the rights of victims and comes at a time when the homicide rate in the District has increased significantly.” The document concluded by advising anyone seeking additional information about the proposed changes to contact councilmember Charles Allen.
Regardless of how local politicians and their gun control allies disparage individuals lawfully exercising their constitutional rights, they would do well to recall that the court invalidating D.C.’s previous licensing regime ruled that “the Second Amendment protects an individual right of responsible, law-abiding citizens to defend themselves,” with the District’s residents being “no more dangerous with a gun than the next law-abiding citizen.”