D.C. Views Shaped by A History Of Violence

By Robert E. Pierre and Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, June 27, 2008

Gun control, for many D.C. residents, has always been more personal than ideological, regardless of where they stand on the issue.

Take Maurice Benton, who hates yesterday's Supreme Court decision, and Sandra Seegars, who loves it. Each lives in a Southeast Washington community -- he in Barry Farm, she in Congress Park -- where it's difficult to find someone who doesn't know someone who has been shot or robbed at gunpoint.

Benton, 20, was shot in the stomach in 2006, had four surgeries and takes medication daily so his body won't reject the donor intestine. Seegars, an advisory neighborhood commissioner, had a brother who was shot to death in 1978; another is imprisoned for fatally shooting someone.

Across town, Stacey Coates, 60, lives in Northwest, three blocks from the Maryland line. She teaches "tolerance through drama" at the Kennedy Center. Reading at the popular restaurant Busboys & Poets yesterday, Coates said more guns won't solve anything.

"If we were still a pioneer country, I would understand [the right to bear arms]," she said. "But we're more civilized than that."

With yesterday's decision to scrap the District's handgun ban, residents from the safest parts of Northwest to the most dangerous sections of Southeast expressed glee that the decision could enable some residents to defend themselves or dismay that it could lead to more chaos.

Some railed against laws that seem to ignore those who import illegal guns into the city but heavily punish those who buy them. Some who have never been robbed said they planned to get a gun. Shooting victims, meanwhile, said they would not.

Edward Matthews, 24, a student at the University of the District of Columbia, said the ban was a source of constant frustration. Matthews lives in Fort Washington, in part, so he can own a handgun, he said, and has often worried about relatives living in the District who could not.

"I have family in D.C. that have been robbed, but they didn't have guns because it was illegal, now they'll probably get something," he said.

Most city residents would disagree. In a Washington Post poll of D.C. residents in January, 76 percent favored the city's gun law.

Gustavo Cuello, 47, owner of Habitat Home Accents & Jewelry on U Street, said the idea that everyone can own a gun is "completely stupid." He was mugged once in Dupont Circle two years ago, but no weapon was involved. "They talk about guns for hunting or self-defense," he said. "This is 2008!"

The need for self-defense is real to Sorrell Green. He has two pit bulls for safety and favors allowing residents to own guns and carry them. At 61, he has lived in the District for 40 years and has been robbed five times, twice at gunpoint outside his house. "Just having a gun in your house is not going to do you any good on the street," he said. "People need something to protect themselves."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company