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UPDATE: D.C. passes new handgun law

UPDATE Tuesday 8 p.m.  The City Council of Washington, D.C., on Tuesday completed passage of the proposed new handgun control legislation.  The Council, by unanimous voice vote, approved the bill largely as outlined in the post below. The Council did vote to increase the gun registration fee from a proposed $13 to $25. It authorized the Police Chief to impose a fee for the required ballistics test. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said in a statement: “None of us wanted this bill to be necessary. But I think we have struck the right balance between honoring the Supreme Court’s Heller decision and protecting the safety of our residents.  I especially want to thank Councilmember [Phil] Mendelson for his leadership and expertise as we worked to put together this legislation.”  The legislation was scheduled to go into effect immediately and remain in effect for no more than 90 days.  The Council is expected to take up permanent legislation in September.


 Officials of the city government in Washington, D.C., on Monday proposed a new measure that would allow handguns to be in a ready-to-use condition only for prompt reactions to threats of “immediate harm” within the home.  In a planned response to the Supreme Court’s June 26 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller (07-290), local officials released the text of a “Firearms Control Emergency Act of 2008.” The City Council plans to act on the bill during a legislative session Tuesday, on an emergency basis, officials said.

A news release describing the bill and a new set of police regulations on guns can be found here.  At the bottom of the release are links to a new amnesty proposal, the text of the proposed new gun law, and the text of proposed new regulations to implement that law when it is enacted by the City Council.

In the Supreme Court’s Heller decision, the Justices declared a new constitutional right to have a gun for self-defense in the home, and struck down a 1976 law so far as it barred possession of handguns in the home for self-defense. The Court also nullified a separate requirement that any gun kept in the home be unloaded and disassembled or have a trigger lock on.

Under the proposed new law for the city, handguns would have to be registered by anyone entitled to have such a gun. If the owner expects to use the gun for self-defense within the owner’s home, the owner would not need a separate license-to-carry for that purpose.

However, any gun kept in the owner’s home would have to be kept unloaded and disassembled or else disabled by a trigger lock. The only time that requirement is not in force, under the proposal law, would be when the gun was “being used to protect against a reasonably perceived threat of immediate harm to a person” within that person’s home.

That provision, officials told reporters, was meant to allow a handgun owner to get the gun and load it — for example, if a burglar were at the door.  It would not allow the gun to be loaded or assembled or unlocked at all times it remained in the home. 

Officials said they expected that this provision might be challenged in court by gun rights groups or individuals, on the theory that it is too restrictive and would not allow practical access to a working gun in an emergency.

Under the proposal, a handgun could be registered but only if it was submitted to police for a ballistics test, to determine whether it had been stolen or used in a crime.  Registration would be limited to one gun per individual during the first 90 days the law was in effect.

Outside the home, handguns would generally be banned, except that they could be used elsewhere “for lawful recreational purposes” or could be carried “for a lawful purpose” allowed by federal or District law.

Under District law, the emergency bill would go into effect immediately, and remain in effect for no more than 90 days.  The City Council will take up proposals for permanent legislation in September, it is understood.

The amnesty and police gun regulations disclosed Monday are designed to implement the new approach to gun control. The amnesty provision, in effect for six months, would mean that a person entitled to register a handgun would not be prosecuted for previously having an unregistered pistol.  There would be no amnesty for any crime committed using the gun.