Legally registered firearms in the home have no impact on gun violence on the streets, which represents the majority of gun violence in the District of Columbia (Source: MPD)
Close call prompts gun purchase
Eric Smith owns about 18 guns, most of which are antiques ranging from Russian rifles to handguns from the 1920s. And all of them are registered with the Metropolitan Police Department.
Although Smith grew up shooting guns with his dad, he didn't keep a gun in his own apartment until about three years ago. One night, he arrived home, and noticed the marks of a crow bar on his window frame. It seemed that someone had tried to break in. He tried to forget about it, but then, it happened a second time.
"The person obviously at least has a crow bar, so they are armed," says Smith. "And I have a butter knife, or something like that. And that's not a scenario I want to play out."
Because there are no gun shops in D.C., Smith went to Maryland to buy a shotgun. Before bringing it home, he had to take a gun-training course and register his firearm with the city.
"I had to go and get fingerprinted and take a quiz on the law and firearm safety, get a form."
Wading through mountains of paperwork
Part of the form needs to be filled out by the gun seller, so you have to go back out to Virginia or Maryland, or wherever the gun is being held, have the vendor complete the form, and then return it to MPD headquarters.
Then, the police run a background check, and you sign and notarize a form that says you haven't been convicted of any excluding crimes, crimes like drug offenses or assault. After that you can take the gun home, unless you’re registering a handgun. Then there’s the final step of ballistics testing.
"Eleanor Holmes Norton has been quoted as saying 'we want to make this as bureaucratic and difficult as possible to discourage firearms ownership,'” says Smith.
Little change in crime stats since ban was lifted
Despite all the regulations and background checks, the Metropolitan Police Department says the variations in the city's gun laws have had no impact on street crime. That's because, in most cases, the guns used in violent crime are illegal and flow in and out of the District without passing through any registration process whatsoever.
"It is true that D.C.'s gun laws are, to some extent, undercut by weaker gun laws of surrounding jurisdictions, particularly Virginia," says Dennis Hannigan with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence "But that is hardly the fault of D.C.'s gun laws.
"What we're talking about here is possession of a lethal weapon," continues Hannigan. "The fact that D.C. criminals have to import their guns from other jurisdictions demonstrates that D.C.'s strict gun laws actually work."
D.C. defends gun laws
Council member Mary Cheh says when she and the council rewrote these laws, they were thinking beyond street crime.
"Guns might be used for suicide," she says. "Guns might be used accidentally. It's not supposed to be an obstacle course just to be an obstacle course."
Back at the gun range, Smith is firing a few final rounds before packing up his gear and heading home. He says he feels his rights are being limited by these regulations.
"It goes down to what the Supreme Court said, that there can be reasonable requirements, as these are clearly the most difficult rules in the United States, is that reasonable? I don’t think so."
But after going through that process 18 times, Smith says he has no plans to move away, to some place where it might be easier to register a gun. He says to own a firearm in D.C., you have to love the city a whole lot more than you love your guns.