District Gun Bill Goes to Council

D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier, left, listens as Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) announces new firearms regulations for the city.
D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier, left, listens as Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) announces new firearms regulations for the city. (By Jacquelyn Martin -- Associated Press)
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By Robert E. Pierre and Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Within weeks, District residents could legally keep handguns in their homes under emergency legislation that goes to the D.C. Council today, as officials try to comply with the Supreme Court ruling rejecting the city's handgun ban.

But District officials said yesterday that they are braced for the possibility of more legal wrangling as they try to respect the high court while maintaining the strictest controls possible.

Residents could begin applying this week for handgun permits in a process that requires a written examination, proof of residency, good vision and ballistic testing. Applicants also would have to pay a fee and agree to fingerprinting and criminal background checks.

The legislation does not lift restrictions on semiautomatic handguns, a move that will probably land the District back in court, according to the lawyer who successfully challenged the gun ban.

Announcing the regulations yesterday, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty was clear about what might be ahead.

"We think we have struck the delicate legal balance," he said during a news conference. "While we will have lawsuits, we think we stand on solid legal ground."

Alongside Fenty (D) were Acting Attorney General Peter Nickles, D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray and several council members, including Phil Mendelson (D-At Large).

The legislation was originally crafted by Mendelson, who chairs the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary and who worked with Nickles in recent days to revise and strengthen the bill.

The District's ban was the nation's toughest, and city officials fought vigorously to maintain it, but gun violence -- and deaths -- persisted throughout the legislation's 32-year existence.

Provisions for gun ownership in the city had been highly anticipated since the court's 5 to 4 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller declared that individuals have a right to have guns in their homes for self-defense. Although some residents said they worry that more killings would result because of the ruling, others said they intended to purchase or register a gun as soon as possible.

Alan Gura, the lead attorney for residents who challenged the ban, said the proposed rules do not comply with the Supreme Court's decision because they do not allow for semiautomatic handguns.

"The semiautomatic ban is clearly unconstitutional," Gura said. "The overwhelming majority of handguns people use in the United States are semiautomatic."

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