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Since D.C.'s handgun ban ended, well-heeled residents have become well armed

Michael Grinage, 54, holds a handgun he bought after the city began allowing ownership. He keeps it loaded in a gun safe.
Michael Grinage, 54, holds a handgun he bought after the city began allowing ownership. He keeps it loaded in a gun safe. (The Washington Post)

"You've got to think about this before you're confronted," he said. "You have to game-plan ahead. . . . When the time comes, you have to have already been there mentally, so you'll know what to do and when to do it."

Which he does: "When it comes to my family's safety, I've been there many times in my mind," he said. "I'd have no qualms about killing somebody in that circumstance."

A matter of economics

Police said there could be thousands more legal firearms in the city that were bought in past decades under different laws.

Although the demographic breakdown of gun registrants since 2008 is sparse and general, it offers a glimpse into firearms ownership in the nation's capital 32 months after the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to own guns.

The court allowed reasonable regulations, and the District, unlike Virginia and Maryland, still bars carrying guns in public.

From Deanwood to Cleveland Park, from Takoma to Congress Heights, more than 1,200 men and about 170 women, most of them ages 30 to 60, have availed themselves of the right to pack heat in their homes. Some keep multiple firearms.

In the District's poorest, most crime-scarred precinct, Ward 8 in far Southeast, residents have registered about 140 guns. In Ward 3 in upper Northwest, where the violent-crime rate is nearly 10 times lower and the average family income is more than five times higher, about twice as many firearms have been registered.

It's open to conjecture why residents in some of the District's toughest neighborhoods have registered fewer guns than people in other parts of the city. D.C. police Lt. Jon Shelton, head of the firearms registration unit, said it could be simple economics.

"You have to figure, what are legitimate guns costing now?" he said. "A basic revolver is going for $350 or $400. And you're talking about $650, $700 for a quality 9 millimeter. So who's got that kind of money to just throw out there for a gun?

"Legitimate people I'm talking about now. A lot of them, these days, they're having a hard enough time putting food on the table for their kids."

More than 40 gun registrants are in their 80s, the records show. The oldest: a 90-year-old man in upper Northwest with a semiautomatic. Nearly 300 firearms have been registered by people older than 60, most of them men.

"Let me put it to you this way: I feel a heck of a lot safer now than I used to," said a 69-year-old retired computer specialist living alone in the Chillum area of Northeast. In his Zip code, 20011, there were 126 guns registered, including his three semiautomatics, which he keeps handy on both floors of his house.

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