Correction: An earlier version of this column incorrectly stated that there is “not one federally licensed firearms dealer in the city.” The District has no federally licensed firearms dealers that sell weapons to individuals, but they do process paperwork and perform background checks on residents who purchase firearms in other jurisdictions. The column has been revised.
We’ve got a lovely bunch of guns in the District. There they are, all standing in a row. Big ones, small ones, some as big as your head. Give them a twist, a flick of the wrist, that’s what the gun huckster said.
Apologies to Fred Heatherton, composer of the 1944 song “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts.” And as gun control advocates try to resurrect debate on the stymied Senate gun bill, it’s worth looking at the state of guns here in our nation’s capital.
Truth is, Washington, D.C., has a cornucopia of firepower, probably enough to satisfy the appetite of an army.
One group of weapons in our midst comes courtesy of the U.S. Supreme Court. The landmark 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the court knocked down the city’s ban on handgun possession, has led to more than 2,200 handguns and 1,150 rifles being registered in the District, according to Metropolitan Police Department spokesman Gwendolyn Crump.
Visitors to Washington, duck and cover.
Since the Heller decision, 3,374 guns are legally in town. The mother lode of weaponry, however, is off the books.
Over the past 10 years, police officers have recovered more than 20,000 firearms in the city — 2,008 in 2012 alone. And we’re not talking BB guns.
In January, the police department recovered dozens of semiautomatic pistols and revolvers, as well as several shotguns. All makes of weapons are on the firearms recovery list for that month: Ruger, Glock, Smith & Wesson, Walther, Astra, Star, Tressitu, Springfield Arms, Colt, Sig Sauer, Benelli, Mossberg, Stevens, CZ (Ceska Zbrojovka) and Rohm.
The caliber of weapons recovered would make a thug’s heart flutter: 9mm Lugers, .357 Magnums, 9mm Makarov, 12-gauge shotguns, .45 automatics and .38 specials.
Which goes to show that when it comes to weapons of massive mayhem, the city’s criminal element has discriminating tastes.
Perhaps to no one’s surprise, most of the guns were recovered in neighborhoods east of Rock Creek Park, with many in Northeast and Southeast.
But in January the police also gained possession of guns in the 3800 block of Reservoir Road NW, the 2600 block of Dumbarton Street NW, the 4300 block of Garfield Street NW and the 3100 block of Massachusetts Avenue NW. Illegal guns recognize no borders or socioeconomic boundaries.
There is not one federally licensed firearms dealer in the city that sells weapons to individuals. So how do those weapons get here? District residents can and do purchase firearms in other jurisdictions, including in neighboring Maryland and Virginia. The weapons causing havoc, however, are not guns that have been legally purchased or owned.
Herein lies the problem not addressed by the debate over expansion of a national background-check system for gun buyers: the ease with which dangerous people can gain access to illegal guns.
When I asked the D.C. police for an estimate of the number of unregistered firearms in the city, the department responded by e-mail: “We have no way of knowing that.” Nor should it. But the firearms recovery figures suggest that quite an arsenal of illegal weapons exists in the District.
All of the safety measures in various legislative proposals — firearms registration requirements, bullet restrictions, hands-on training courses and tracking of legal firearms — are unlikely to stop individuals who are disqualified from owning a firearm (that is, felons) from getting one. Not as long as we have a thriving underground market for semiautomatic pistols, revolvers and shotguns.
So toss in the towel? Of course not. Continue pressing for sensible gun controls at the national level.
Here in the District, put public safety first. Crack down hard on firearm-related offenses. Make arrests for gun violations count. As Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier told the D.C. Council last year, “Members of the community and officers on the street are also tired of seeing dangerous offenders arrested one day and out on the street the next.” That is a formula for more gun violence, not less.
The national debate over gun control, such as it is, can rage in all directions. The focus in Washington should be on curbing the flow of illegal firearms in our city and on arresting and convicting those who would use them.
We’ve got a lovely bunch of weapons. Far too many.
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