By Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
The D.C. Council voted unanimously yesterday to give preliminary approval to legislation that would require gun owners to renew their registrations every three years and to notify police annually whether they still own guns.
The Fire Arms Registration Amendment, which would also ban assault weapons, was described as building on legislation passed by the council in September to adhere to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning the city's 32-year handgun ban.
Yesterday's vote came during a 10-hour meeting as the council navigated a crush of legislation before the end of the year. It has scheduled a meeting for Dec. 16 to handle legislation on housing and school suspensions, among other issues.
In addition to the gun bill, the council gave preliminary approval yesterday to a plan to bring Verizon's fiber-optic network to the District, and council members faced the controversial issue of the statute of limitations for the damage claims of adult survivors of child sexual abuse.
Yesterday's gun legislation is the next step in the District's gun control efforts. Its earlier attempts before the September legislation prompted a gun-rights activist to sue and the U.S. House of Representatives to pass legislation that would have all but stripped the city of its regulating authority. The lawsuit is pending; the congressional measure died in the Senate.
Since September, D.C. residents have been allowed to register magazine-loaded semiautomatic handguns as well as revolvers. The legislation banned magazines that are capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
Yesterday's legislation would also require firearms owners to take a safety course and undergo a background check every six years.
After the vote, council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) said in a statement, "Today's vote puts the District at the forefront of using regulation to reduce gun violence, rather than the simpler, prior approach of hoping that an outright ban will be effective."
Mendelson is chairman of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary.
Alan Gura, however, said requiring repeated registration will bring the city more legal problems. "None of this is going to reduce crime, but it is going to increase litigation," said Gura, the lead counsel for the plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case. "While I have not studied the bill, requiring people to register and re-register every year is harassment."
Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the National Rifle Association, said he had not seen the legislation. Still, he said, "if the mayor and the city counsel continue to defy the United States Supreme Court, the National Rifle Association will seek a remedy either by legal or legislative means."
"What they are trying to do is to make it difficult as possible for law-abiding people to own a firearm."
After last night's meeting and in response to gun-rights advocates, Mendelson said in an interview, "We have been mindful of the limitations set forth in the Supreme Court case, and the bill falls within that." He said the bill also will be "refined" before the final vote.
Meanwhile, Verizon is seeking permission to wire the entire city with its new fiber-optic system, or FiOS, which can support phone, television and Internet service.
In legislation introduced by Chairman Vincent C. Gray on behalf of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty -- and overseen by Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) -- the system would be installed in waves, starting next year. According to map provided by Verizon officials, the initial areas would include far Northwest Washington, extending from the Maryland line up to, but not including, Dupont Circle; far Northeast Washington, from the Maryland line to about Sherman Avenue; and a section of Southeast Washington, east of the Anacostia River.
Dupont Circle and Southwest would be wired three years later. Downtown, from Capitol Hill to Georgetown, would get the fiber-optic service last.
Council members Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) welcomed the system but expressed their frustration with the plan.
"Why are some neighborhoods sheep and the other neighborhoods goats?" asked Graham.
Evans, whose ward includes downtown and Georgetown, wanted to know why it was the only ward that would not have any installations in the first phase. "Ward 2 is the only ward that gets nothing in the first phase," he said. "Georgetown will get it nine years from now."
"We are one step closer," said William Roberts, Verizon regional president, after the vote.
Roberts also said, "If everyone is first, then no one is first. But you have to start somewhere. . . . It is a balanced approach."
In another matter yesterday, the council voted 12 to 1 to pass the Intrafamily Offense Act of 2008, which "increases the legal protections available to minors of dating and domestic violence."
Representatives of the Washington Catholic Archdiocese and victims of clergy sex abuse were in the council chambers hoping to influence a vote on the statue of limitations for damage claims of child sex abuse victims.
Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) had fought to have the statute of limitations dropped in cases of child sex abuse.
Instead, the council maintained limitations but extended them for several years.
"There is a balancing act in the interest of justice between the rights of the victim and the rights of the defendant," Mendelson said.
Jane Belford, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Washington, said she was pleased with the vote.
Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priest, called it "disappointing."