MS. REBECCA SHEIR
It's been three years since the Supreme Court overturned Washington's historic ban on handguns. Before the Supreme Court decision, roughly 70,000 guns were registered, mostly for law enforcement and security. But since the laws changed to allow individuals to keep a gun in their home, only 1,300 guns have been registered for that purpose. So here's the puzzle. Why isn't legal gun ownership more common in D.C.? Well, to try to answer that, it helps to talk with a guy like Erik Smith.
MR. ERIK SMITH
I'm a contractor for Department of Homeland Security.
Smith grew up in Calvert County, Md. just south Annapolis. His father was a police firearms instructor and guns, Smith says, were a part of everyday life.
So there were always guns around the house. And we were always taught that they're not toys, but if we want to handle them, we can, we just have to ask. There was no mystery to it. There was no forbidden fruit to it.
No mystery for Smith maybe, but that's not the case for many Washingtonians. So we sent reporter Emily Friedman with him to a local gun range to get a firsthand perspective on firearms and what it's like to be a gun owner in D.C.
MS. EMILY FRIEDMAN
I am not a gun person. In fact, as Erik Smith and I arrive at Maryland Small Arms Range, my palms begin to sweat.
All right, everybody needs to have hearing protection on. All right.
While the guns we're shooting today are pretty new, most of the 18 guns Smith owns are antiques, Russian rifles from World War I, handguns from the 1920s, that sort of thing. He says his collection is worth about $10,000 and all of his guns are registered with the Metropolitan Police Department.
When I go in there, they know me and they say, are you getting another gun? I say, oh, of course, you know, I want to give you guys a job.
Although Erik 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 marks of a crowbar on his window frame. It seemed 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 crowbar so they are armed. And I have a butter knife and that's not a scenario that I want to play out.
...smooth steady squeeze until finally it goes, bang.
Because there are no gun shops in D.C., Smith went to Maryland to buy a shotgun. But before he could take it home, he had to take a gun training course and register his firearm with the city.
I had to go to get fingerprinted and take a quiz on the law and firearm safety. And then you have to fill out a form. It requires your job history, your housing history.
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 and have the vendor complete the form, then return it to MPD headquarters.
The firearms registration place is only open during business hours. So it's guaranteed you're taking a lot of time off of work. And there's no parking there and it's just a hassle.
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 and assault. After that, you can take the gun home, unless you're registering a hand gun, in which case there's a 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.
Despite all the regulations, the Metropolitan Police Department says the variations in the city's gun laws have actually had no impact on street crime. That's because, in most cases, the guns used in violent crime are illegal. They flow in and out of the District without passing through any registration process whatsoever.
MR. DENNIS HANNIGAN
It is true that D.C.'s strong gun laws are, to some extent, undercut by the weaker gun laws of surrounding jurisdictions, particularly Virginia. But that is hardly the fault of D.C.'s gun laws.
That's Dennis Hannigan from the Brady Campaign to prevent gun violence.
What we're talking about here is possession of a lethal weapon. The fact that D.C. criminals have to import their guns from other jurisdictions demonstrates that D.C.'s strict gun laws actually work.
Council Member Mary Cheh says when she and the council rewrote these laws, they were thinking beyond street crime.
MS. MARY CHEH
It's not just that guns might be used for crime. Guns might be used for suicide. 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. And these are the most difficult requirements in the United States, is that reasonable? I don't think so.
But after going through the process 18 times, Smith says he has no plans to move away to somewhere 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 then you love your guns. I'm Emily Friedman.
Time for a break. But when we get back...
MS. KATHLEEN DONAHUE
Not like I'm dealing puzzle drugs or anything. But people do get very, very attached to one more puzzle or one more harder puzzle. We have a lot of people that come in and say, what's your hardest puzzle? Can you get me harder puzzles?
Going inside the Capitol Hill store serving the most ardent puzzlers among us. That and more in a minute on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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