March 29, 2007 10:26AM

DC Gun Laws

Eugene Volokh has thoughts on what constitutes a violation of the DC law regarding firearms possession. Today’s Washington Post says police and lawyers are unsure about what is legal and what is illegal–at least with respect to members of Congress and their staff. The DC police say Senators may have guns in their offices, but it would be a crime for the members to carry or transport a handgun from their residence to their office. To get around that bizarre reading of the law, one lawyer suggests that Senators have a DC police cruiser transport their weapons to and from their offices. Good grief. 

Everyone seems to agree that Senator Webb’s staffer, Phillip Thompson, meant no harm. Given that, shouldn’t Thompson invoke his constitutional right to a trial by jury? I wish he would, but that is not likely to happen. Prosecutors can extort guilty pleas from people like Thompson by using plea‐​bargaining tactics (pdf). DC prosecutors will give Thompson an offer he can’t refuse: waive your right to a trial and plead guilty and you’ll get probation. If Thompson says he’d like to have a jury trial, prosecutors will warn him that if he goes that route, the city will throw the book at him and add a criminal “count” for every single bullet (“unregistered ammunition”) that was in his possession. Not many people are willing to risk years in prison by taking a case to a jury. 

Bottom line: A crazy quilt of laws and extorted guilty pleas.