Gun Registrations Off To Slow Start in D.C.

By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 18, 2008

Thirty-two years after banning most D.C. residents from possessing handguns, the District government opened its doors yesterday to applicants seeking permission to own revolvers, bowing to a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that declared the city's tough firearms restrictions unconstitutional.

With the ban lifted after a momentous, years-long legal battle that led to the landmark high court decision last month, here's how many applications the city received by day's end: one.

Bracing for a crowd at the registration office, at police headquarters on Indiana Avenue NW, officials set up a reception counter in the lobby and used portable metal railings to reserve one of the building's entrances for "gun registry applicants." Officers stood guard at the door, and a dozen reporters and TV cameras were waiting expectantly at 7 a.m., when the registration process was to begin.

But in the eight hours that the office remained open, there was no crush of people eager to avail themselves of the newly affirmed right to own a revolver in the nation's capital. Police gave out 58 registration packets to people stopping by for the materials. But only two people showed up to apply to register handguns, and one was turned away by police officials because he didn't bring his weapon with him, as the registration rules require.

"We didn't think there was going to be a big rush," Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said. Still she added, "We'd always rather be overprepared than underprepared."

The would-be applicant who was turned away was Capitol Hill resident Dick A. Heller, whose lawsuit prompted the Supreme Court ruling that scuttled the city's strict firearms control laws.

Arriving at 6:30 a.m., accompanied by an adviser, Heller was met outside the building by various police officials. In an animated discussion, they explained to Heller that he needed to show authorities the handgun he wanted to register, and allow it to be test-fired, as part of the registration process.

The adviser, Dane von Breichenruchardt, president of the Bill of Rights Foundation, a public-interest group, said that Heller owns at least two handguns -- a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol and a .22-caliber revolver -- and that the weapons have been stored for years with a friend in Maryland.

Although officials said that gun owners in Heller's situation can bring legally owned revolvers from other jurisdictions into the District to register them, von Breichenruchardt said he had told Heller not to do so without written assurance that it was permissible.

After Assistant Police Chief Peter J. Newsham publicly promised Heller that he would "absolutely not" get in trouble for bringing a revolver into the city, Heller said he would bring the weapon to police headquarters this morning to start the registration process.

Police Lt. Jon Shelton, head of the registration office, predicted that more people will come forward after news broadcasts show Heller going through the process. "Once someone sees Mr. Heller walk in that door with his gun and start the registration process, then walk back out with his gun, it may be a different story," he said.

Neither Heller nor his adviser were upset by the delay.

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