D.C. Gun Ban Is Out, But Regulations Stay
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
The D.C. Council unanimously approved emergency legislation last night that ends the strictest handgun ban in the country and voted 12 to 1 to approve the transfer of almost $125 million to renovate schools by fall -- two major issues that showed the council's complex relationship with Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.
The gun bill establishes regulations for residents to keep handguns in their homes legally to comply with last month's historic Supreme Court decision that found the city's 32-year prohibition of handguns unconstitutional.
City leaders say the legislation goes as far as it can on gun regulations while respecting the high court's ruling. Weapons must be unloaded, disassembled or trigger-locked, except when there is a "threat of immediate harm to a person" in the home.
The legislation also requires that guns remain inside homes. It requires eye and written exams for gun owners, and ballistics tests conducted by police.
Opponents of the gun ban say the new legislation and the city's continued prohibition of semiautomatic weapons are not in accordance with the high court's decision. Fenty (D) and council members, presenting a unified front on the gun ban, say they are prepared for lawsuits.
Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), chairman of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary and one of the mayor's most vocal critics, said he and the administration collaborated on the legislation.
"I want to commend my partners on the Council for their swift, sensible action on our gun laws today," Fenty said in a statement yesterday in which he singled out Mendelson's leadership. "None of us wanted this bill to be necessary. But I think we have struck the right balance between honoring the Supreme Court's Heller decision and protecting the safety of our residents."
But on schools, the council and the Fenty administration continue to be divided. Several council members said they were reluctantly approving the transfer, called a reprogramming of funds.
Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) resisted pressure from the Fenty administration, which had insisted that the council quickly approve the reprogramming and several contracts two weeks ago.
Gray refused to place all of the school contracts on the council's agenda, saying that the school system had to address the issue of several schools being reconstructed to become pre-kindergarten to eighth grade. He and other council members said that a hearing was necessary because the switch represented a change in education policy, not just a construction project.
"We took the opportunity to be serious about our jobs," Gray said. "To receive contracts . . . and expect someone to approve them in a matter of hours or days is totally ludicrous."
D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and school construction chief Allen Y. Lew told Gray this month that continued delay in approving funds jeopardized the orderly opening of schools Aug. 25.