Owning a Gun in Washington May Get Easier

The DC City Council’s Committee on the Judiciary has just issued a 27-page “Report on Bill 19-614, ‘Firearms Amendment Act of 2012,’” which purports to liberalize the city’s notoriously draconian firearms registration laws. I haven’t had a chance yet to carefully review this report or the complex bill itself, written like most such bills (“replace subsection (b)(ii) with the following language”), but it seems clear from the guarded early language (“Bill 19-614 maintains core aspects of the District’s gun control law”) that the council is responding to the threat of further litigation, to say nothing of congressional intervention, while at the same time trying to assuage its local gun-control constituency. Indeed, that early language has a grudging air about it: after all, it was in June 2008 that the Supreme Court decided District of Columbia v. Heller, which found that the Second Amendment protects the right to possess a firearm for self-defense within the home – no small matter in Washington – and here we are nearly four years later, still with no proper regulatory response to that ruling.

As with so much legislation, however, the devil will be in the details and in the administration of any such regulations, assuming the council approves them. The report notes, for example, that “In order for an individual to purchase a handgun outside the District and register that handgun in the District, the transfer of the firearm to its purchaser, pursuant to federal law, must occur through a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL).” Currently, however, there is only one individual in the District operating an FFL (for which ”market forces are largely to blame,” we’re invited to believe), and recently that licensee temporarily lost his license. In such circumstances in the future, the report continues, “the District government may seek a license to operate as an FFL” – not “shall,” but “may.”

Long guns, too, come under these regulations – the kinds of guns that sportsmen around the country have owned for centuries without having to go through any such procedures as are outlined in this detailed report. All of which is to say that it will be a while longer before we know just how the rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment will be honored in the nation’s capitol. One more reason for District residents to read Cato’s new study, “Tough Targets: When Criminals Face Armed Resistance from Citizens,” if only to spur their City Council members to allow them to better protect themselves.