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Gun Registrations Off To Slow Start in D.C.

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"I think what's happened here is a misunderstanding of the law," von Breichenruchardt said, "and that's perfectly understandable."

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But Heller and von Breichenruchardt angrily criticized the city over other aspects of the handgun ownership and registration process, outlined in emergency legislation approved this week by the D.C. Council and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D).

The new law includes strict storage requirements that opponents of the handgun ban say violate the Supreme Court ruling. Gun owners must keep their pistols at home, unloaded and either disassembled or equipped with trigger locks. Weapons can be loaded and used only if the owner reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger from an attacker in the home.

The city also has continued to ban most clip-loaded semiautomatic handguns -- which dominate the firearms market -- by including those weapons in its broadly written ban on machine guns, which was not at issue in the Supreme Court ruling.

Newsham said if anyone shows up to register a semiautomatic pistol that fits the city's definition of a machine gun, police will confiscate the gun but will not immediately arrest the owner. But he said police reserve the right to investigate and eventually file charges.

For Heller, Newsham said, that means his Colt .45 cannot be registered. "It appears that the city does not yet understand the decision and order of the Supreme Court," said Heller, 66, a security guard.

Von Breichenruchardt accused D.C. officials of "trying to find as many ways as they can to make the process as difficult and unattractive as they can," and he predicted that the issue of semiautomatic pistols will lead to more litigation. "Mayor Fenty promised us he would follow the letter and spirit of the law. He has done neither."

Because, under federal law, buyers can purchase handguns only in the states where they live, D.C. residents cannot legally purchase and take delivery of firearms until a licensed firearms dealer sets up shop in the District. Officials said that one dealer is in the process of reactivating his license and that others will probably obtain licenses eventually.

Eventually, it will be possible for D.C. residents to buy pistols in other states and have dealers in those states ship the guns to dealers in the District for delivery.

Officials said they expect that most of the gun owners who show up to register weapons in the weeks ahead will be people who kept revolvers in their homes illegally during the ban and who want to take advantage of a six-month amnesty period that began yesterday.

Others, such as Heller, might have purchased revolvers legally in other jurisdictions, including Maryland and Virginia, and then left the guns in the care of friends or relatives when they moved to the District. As Newsham told Heller yesterday morning, those guns can be legally transported into the District, provided that they are taken directly to D.C. police headquarters for registration.

The only application received yesterday was from a woman who brought a revolver to the registration office under the amnesty program, officials said.

After the gun was test-fired and the woman completed registration paperwork and a written test, she went home with the gun to await a decision on her application.

By law, she must keep the gun in her home, unloaded and either disassembled or fitted with a trigger lock, and she is not allowed to use it, even for self-defense, unless her application is approved. The process involves a background check for disqualifying factors such as a felony record or history of mental illness.

Von Breichenruchardt stressed that Heller did not need amnesty because he broke no laws. He called the semiautomatic handgun ban "foolishness" and said it almost certainly will be challenged in court.

"The Supreme Court has given its ruling," he said. "Mr. Fenty and the city council are not above the Constitution of the United States."

Staff writer Sindya N. Bhanoo contributed to this report.


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