D.C. City Council member H.R. Crawford proposed yesterday temporarily lifting the city's five-year-old freeze on legal handguns to allow any person who could demonstrate a "need" for a handgun to own one and register it by the end of the year.
Crawford (D-Ward 7) said he proposed amending the law, one of the toughest in the nation, because of the increasing crime rate in Washington, particularly in the city's far eastern corner that he represents.
There have been numerous robberies and two killings at fast-food restaurants in Northeast and Southeast Washington this year, including a March 16 robbery at a McDonald's restaurant on Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue NE where an unarmed manager was shot and killed--the second shooting death during a robbery at the restaurant in two months.
Crawford said yesterday that if the McDonald's manager had been able to "get a shot off," the incident would probably not have happened.
"It is time we take a look at what is going on in our city realistically," Crawford said in an interview. "And of course, I do believe you would be a damn fool to sit in your business or in your home and let somebody violate you."
In 1977, a new city gun control law became effective requiring the registration of all currrently owned handguns, rifles and shotguns, and freezing the number of legal handguns by banning the sale or possession of additional handguns by private citizens. The law also required residents to keep pistols unloaded and inoperable.
Despite some talk of a possible congressional veto of the action, the law has stood. Since it took effect, the overall number of handgun-related deaths in the District has declined, according to one study released last year.
More than a decade ago, when he worked as a property manager in some low and moderate-income sections of the city, Crawford said he always carried a gun with him while patrolling the housing developments he ran. Crawford has said since then that he still owns a handgun and that the gun is registered.
Crawford said yesterday that his proposal was not intended to dilute the city's gun control law, but rather to permit those "who have not been able to legitimately arm themselves to protect their businesses and their persons."
He said he would like to have the measure enacted before the council adjourns in August. If it became law, any person without a criminal record would be allowed to register a handgun, but only between the time the measure went into effect and the end of the year. It would be up to city police to determine if the requests to own a gun were justified.
Yesterday, council member David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1), chairman of the council's judiciary committee, said that unless Crawford can find overwhelming support for his proposal on the council floor, the amendment could be doomed in the judiciary committee.
Clarke termed the legislation regressive and said it would be a dangerous solution to increased crime. Clarke said statistics indicate that "citizens don't shoot criminals. Citizens shoot citizens."
During 1980, for instance, three persons were killed by residents during the apparent commission of crimes in the city, while during the same year 112 persons were shot by people apparently committing crimes, Clarke said.
"We've just got to determine which course we are going to go," Clarke said. "Are we going to allow the District of Columbia to be another Dodge City or are we going to develop and give national leadership as it has given with respect to the development of handgun legislation?"
Council member John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2), who was the major sponsor of the existing gun control law, said he is also opposed to Crawford's amendment. "I am opposed to handguns being in urban areas, period," Wilson said.
"I understand the frustration that people have around the difficulties, but the fact of the matter is I am opposed to anybody acting in vigilante nature," Wilson said.