Washington, D.C.—Yesterday, U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Jon Tester (D-MT) introduced a bill that would repeal public safety laws enacted by the District of Columbia in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in the 2008 case of D.C. v. Heller. The “Second Amendment Enforcement Act,” drafted by the National Rifle Association (NRA), would legalize assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines; repeal the District's licensing and registration system; allow some convicted substance abusers and violent misdemeanants to purchase and own firearms; roll back important regulations curbing illegal gun trafficking; and prevent the D.C. Council from enacting gun-related legislation in the future.
In a statement yesterday, the NRA claimed that the “D.C. Council continues to circumvent the Supreme Court’s historic 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller.” Furthermore, they state that the “Second Amendment Enforcement Act” would “repeal D.C.’s ban on many common semi-automatic firearms” and “restore the right of self-defense in the home.” These statements are deliberate misrepresentations of the District’s current gun laws. Section 3 of the District of Columbia’s “Firearms Registration Emergency Amendment Act of 2008” (which was signed into law by Mayor Adrian Fenty on January 6, 2009) amended the city’s definition of “machine gun” and permanently repealed D.C.’s ban on semiautomatic firearms. D.C. residents are now free to register semiautomatic firearms with the Metropolitan Police Department. The District does ban certain assault weapons and “junk guns” (firearms that fail to meet certain consumer product safety standards), but these laws are based on California, Maryland and Massachusetts regulations that have been in place for some time. The bottom line is that D.C. residents are able to legally own hundreds, if not thousands, of semiautomatics firearms.
Regarding D.C’s firearm laws pertaining to self-defense in the home, these laws were also revised following the Heller decision. The “Inoperable Pistol Emergency Amendment Act of 2008” (also signed into law by Mayor Fenty on January 6, 2009) allows District residents discretion in how to legally store firearms in the home without requiring that guns be kept unloaded, trigger locked or disassembled. The only restrictions pertain to those with minors in the home. Section 702 of the “Firearms Registration Act” requires that if a person reasonably knows that a minor is likely to gain access to a firearm without permission of the parent/guardian, the person must either: (a) keep the firearm in a securely locked box, secured container, or in a location which a reasonable person would believe secure, or; (b) keep the firearm on his or her person or within such close proximity that the person can readily retrieve it. These limited restrictions do not impair residents’ ability to use a firearm for self-defense in the home in any way, shape or form.
D.C.’s current gun laws were recently deemed constitutional by the United State District Court for the District of Columbia in the case of Heller, et al., v. District of Columbia. On March 26, 2010, federal judge Ricardo M. Urbina upheld the District of Columbia’s licensing and registration system, assault weapons ban, and prohibition on high-capacity ammunition magazines, stating that these laws “permissibly regulate the exercise of the core Second Amendment right to use arms for the purpose of self-defense in the home.” Judge Urbina stated that “these rigorous firearms regulations are justified…not only because the District is a densely populated, urban locale, but also because ‘as the nation’s capital it hosts a large presence of government and diplomatic officials.’” Furthermore, Urbina praised the D.C. Council for holding “extensive hearings” involving “numerous witnesses on both sides of the gun control divide” before formulating its new laws.
Senator McCain, who is facing a primary challenge from the right in former U.S. Rep. J.D. Hayworth, has taken a more extreme stance on several issues in recent weeks. This includes his support for an anti-immigration bill in Arizona that has been described as an "immoral law" and a “violation of constitutionally protected civil rights.” “Senator McCain should understand that D.C. residents—and particularly those of us who have lost loved ones to gun violence—see the ‘Second Amendment Enforcement Act’ as a violation as well,” said Kenny Barnes, the CEO of ROOT (Reaching Out to Others Together).
There are also political questions about Senator Tester’s co-sponsorship of the “Second Amendment Enforcement Act.” The senator’s home state of Montana recently signed into law a bill that seeks to exempt guns made in the state from all federal firearms regulation. Senator Tester has raised no objections to that legislation. “Apparently, Senator Tester sees no contradiction with exempting his home state from federal regulation while simultaneously using the power of the federal government to tell the residents of District of Columbia what to do with their gun laws,” said Coalition to Stop Gun Violence Executive Director Josh Horwitz.
The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence seeks to secure freedom from gun violence through research, strategic engagement and effective policy advocacy. For more information about the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, visit www.csgv.org
ROOT, Inc. (Reaching Out to Others Together) is a Washington, DC based a nonprofit, 501(c) 3 organization, is committed to advocacy and intervention on behalf of homicide victims and their families. Our mission is to motivate and mobilize communities to take a proactive approach to reducing homicides and the senseless violence occurring in our cities. For more information about ROOT, visit www.rootinc.org.