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D.C. Legislation Would Remove More Gun Limits

D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier testified this week during a House committee hearing on a bill that would throw out the District's gun restrictions.
D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier testified this week during a House committee hearing on a bill that would throw out the District's gun restrictions. (By Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)
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"I'm confident that the changes will be approved," Mendelson said. After circulating a memo to his council colleagues Tuesday that outlined the proposed changes, he said, "I've talked with a number of members, and nobody told me they're opposed."

Peter J. Nickles, the city's acting attorney general, echoed other D.C. officials in June in saying that the District would continue to have tough firearms laws. "We are going to strictly regulate the registration of handguns," he said at the time. "And there will be no authorization of automatics or semiautomatics."

A Fenty spokeswoman, Mafara Hobson, said Nickles was unavailable to comment on the legislation yesterday. "All I can say right now is that we will be working closely with the council next week," Hobson said in an e-mail.

When the city passed the emergency legislation allowing residents to register revolvers, officials stayed away from the hot-button topic of semiautomatics. Because the court ruling did not specifically address a separate D.C. law that bans semiautomatic handguns, that restriction was left in place. A new federal lawsuit has since been filed against the District, alleging that the ban on semiautomatics violates the Supreme Court decision.

The emergency legislation also required revolvers to be kept unloaded in homes and either disassembled or fitted with trigger locks. Under the law, revolvers can be loaded and fired only if the owner is in reasonable fear of imminent harm from an assailant. Those storage requirements also are a focus of the new lawsuit.

Although the storage requirements would be done away with, a gun owner would be subject to prosecution if a child got hold of a loaded, unlocked firearm. If the child did not hurt anyone, the owner would face a misdemeanor charge punishable by up to six months in jail. If the child injured someone, the owner could be charged with a felony carrying up to five years in prison.

Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said he was "a little concerned" about the District possibly eliminating safe-storage requirements for firearms, but he voiced no objection to other aspects of the council's legislation.

The National Rifle Association's chief lobbyist predicted that the legislation will not affect the House debate over the bill to virtually end local gun control in the District. Among other things, the House bill would allow semiautomatic rifles.

"D.C. has lost all credibility in dealing with this issue," said the lobbyist, Chris W. Cox.

Although the House is expected to vote on the gun bill Tuesday, the timing might change, depending on when legislators return from districts pounded by Hurricane Ike.

Congress has tried numerous times in recent years to repeal the District's gun laws. In 2004, the House approved a bill similar to the legislation that is expected to pass next week. That measure eventually died in the Senate.

This year, it is unclear whether the Senate will have time to act on the D.C. gun bill before it recesses at the end of the month for the November election.

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