D.C. Gun Exception Alarms Md. Officials

By Paul Duggan and Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, April 8, 2009

As D.C. officials fret over the public safety implications of a congressional push to limit gun control in the city, the administration of Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has voiced its own objections, arguing that the legislation would put a costly burden on the state's system for regulating firearms.

In Virginia, however, a spokesman for Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) expressed no immediate alarm over the measure, saying Kaine and the Virginia State Police want to study the proposal before offering an opinion.

At issue for the District's neighbors is a key provision in a much-debated amendment to the D.C. voting-rights bill on Capitol Hill. Besides stripping the District of much of its power to regulate guns, the amendment would create an exception in federal law for D.C. residents, allowing them to buy handguns in Maryland and Virginia.

People elsewhere in the country are permitted to make such purchases only in the states where they live.

Saying Maryland "should not be expected to become properly equipped" to run background checks on out-of-state handgun buyers, the director of O'Malley's Office of Crime Control and Prevention told U.S. senators in a letter that the task would require difficult, time-consuming technological preparations, costing Maryland millions of the dollars.

"This is not a game," the director, Kristen Mahoney, said in an interview. "This has nothing to do with the politics of the matter. Operationally, this is impossible. And that's what legislators have to realize."

The amendment is a response to a firearms law enacted by the city after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the District's longtime ban on handgun ownership last year. Supporters of the amendment, which would abolish most of the new rules and limit future ones, say the city has violated the court ruling by making it too difficult for residents to legally buy and keep guns.

It would allow residents to buy handguns in Maryland and Virginia because, at the moment, only one federally licensed firearms dealer is doing business in the city, and he does not have a store. Under current rules, buyers in the District have to arrange for handguns to be shipped to the dealer from outside the city so they can purchase them without crossing state lines.

Tory Mazzola, a spokesman for the amendment's sponsor, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), said no one in his office had seen Mahoney's letter. "If she'd like to talk through these issues," Mazzola said, "we'd be happy to talk about them."

Virginia officials have publicly shared no dire concerns about the amendment. "We are familiar with the issue and are currently evaluating the matter to see what, if any, position the Virginia State Police might take," said Corrine Geller, a spokeswoman for the agency, which is responsible for gun-related background checks.

Each state's laws regarding gun sales would apply to customers from the District. For example, Maryland and Virginia both limit handgun purchases to one a month. The question is how to screen out unacceptable buyers.

To check the backgrounds of District residents to make sure they are eligible to buy guns under Maryland or Virginia rules, officials in those states would have to search D.C. records.

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