By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 20, 2009; B01
The D.C. government released emergency regulations yesterday that greatly expand the models of handguns that District residents can own, a shift designed to stave off another lawsuit over its compliance with the Second Amendment.
The new regulations, which come as the District continues to grapple with last year's Supreme Court decision that threw out the city's gun ban, will allow residents to legally obtain at least 1,000 additional types and models of handguns.
City leaders sought to play down the effects of the new regulations, but gun rights advocates said they were another boost to their efforts to undo the District's long-held restrictions on personal possession of weapons.
"We are gratified the District is recognizing their approach is unworkable and unconstitutional," said Alan Gura, who was the lead attorney in the District of Columbia v. Heller Supreme Court case. "There is now a whole new universe of guns that will now be available."
In addition to permitting guns in the District that are legal in California, the city will also allow residents to apply to register handguns that are permissible in Massachusetts and Maryland.
The new rules will give gun owners a broader array of choices when they go shopping for handguns to keep in their home. In some cases, the change could mean something as minor as what color of weapon they can purchase. In other instances, gun owners will have access to weapons with additional design features.
"These new rules are part of our continuing effort to develop reasonable laws and regulations governing gun ownership in the District," Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) said in a statement.
D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier, whose department developed the policies, said the regulations ensure the city has "a firearms registration process that fully complies with the Supreme Court decision allowing District residents to keep a firearm in their home."
The 5 to 4 Heller ruling, issued in January 2008, overturned the District's three-decades-old handgun ban. The justices determined the Second Amendment grants individuals the right to possess guns for self-defense but said governments may impose reasonable restrictions.
After that ruling, the D.C. Council approved regulations that permit residents to register certain handguns once applicants pass a written examination and provide proof of residency and good vision. People are not allowed to carry guns outside their homes. District officials compiled a list of permissible handguns based on the types of weapons certified for sale in California.
Gun rights advocates protested, saying the list was too restrictive. Gura filed another lawsuit in federal court in March on behalf of three individuals who wanted a handgun that wasn't on the District's list.
To avoid that litigation, Attorney General Peter Nickles said the city decided to expand its list of legal weapons to include those listed on Maryland's and Massachusetts's "safe gun rosters."
"We want to make perfect regulations," Nickles said. "Now we have all legitimate guns that don't pose a problem with safety."
Tracey Hanson, who lives in the city's Bloomingdale neighborhood, was one the plaintiffs. Yesterday, she said the new regulations mean she can apply to register a Springfield XD45 semiautomatic weapon that had been banned under the previous regulations.
"I already have one for self-protection, but I wanted to have another because variety is good," said Hanson, 40. "That is the gun I enjoyed most in using when I had my training, and it was the easiest to use. . . . Law abiding people will be able to protect themselves in their homes like they can do in other parts of the country."
Nickles said it's not clear exactly how many models of weapons will be covered by the changes. There are 1,375 types of permissible handguns on the California list. There are 2,245 on Maryland's, according to Nickles.
Several council members who voted to implement the District's gun policies declined to comment yesterday, saying they had not reviewed the changes.
It's the second time in less than a year that city leaders have had to back away from some of the restrictions they put into place immediately after the Heller decision. Initially, the council permitted residents to register only revolvers, not semiautomatic pistols. But the ban on semiautomatics was lifted in September because of pressure from Congress and gun rights groups.
Chad Ramsey, a spokesman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said he thinks the latest lawsuit was "without merit" considering the range of handguns available for personal use in California. But Ramsey said he understands why the District felt compelled to issue new regulations.
"I think that what the mayor is doing here is being responsible to try to work with all sides so we get sensible gun laws enacted without worrying about lawsuits at every turn," Ramsey said.