Some of the testimony was personal. David Gerberding said he wanted his wife, who is pregnant, to be able to carry a handgun, strapped to her side with a quick release holster if necessary, to fight street crime.
Richard F. Ware Jr., whose 30-year-old son was shot and killed with a handgun during a robbery on Alabama Avenue SE in 1975, said that legalized handguns would provide no more than a false sense of protection.
Another person called the idea of handguns in an urban area insane.
Gerberding and Ware were among nearly three dozen witnesses who testified yesterday before a D.C. City Council committee on a proposal to temporarily lift the city's freeze on handguns and permit residents who illegally possess such guns to register them and keep them as self-protection in their homes and businesses.
"Many citizens are disturbed and frightened," said Council member H. R. Crawford (D-Ward 7), sponsor of the proposal. Crawford said violent crime has increased 53 percent since the registration law was passed in 1976 and that small businesses that cannot afford private security services are easy prey because police "can't be everywhere."
However, David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1), chairman of the Council's judiciary committee who agreed to hold the hearing but has blocked the proposal from coming up for a vote, gave little indication of quick action on the measure.
"I am emphatically opposed to the changes," Clarke said in an opening statement. "The civilized course is still a good course. Indeed, our firearms control has become a model for the nation," he said, noting a recently-passed law in Chicago and pending legislation in California, which he said were similar to the city's current law.
That law, aimed at freezing the number of handguns in Washington, became effective in 1977. It required the registration of all handguns then in the city and prohibited the sale of any additional ones. The law also required all handguns kept in residences to be in inoperable condition.
Crawford's proposal would lift the registration ban for up to 90 days to permit those persons who demonstrated to police that they had "a need" for a gun to register one.
Police Chief Maurice T. Turner, who recently voiced his personal support for the Crawford bill, did not testify yesterday because he has agreed not to publicly disagree with Mayor Marion Barry. Barry has supported the city's current law and no one from his office attended yesterday's hearing.
The surprisingly dispassionate hearing drew only about 100 persons to the Council chambers in the District Building even though the crime issue has been highlighted in several political campaigns this year.
Many of the witnesses, about half of whom supported Crawford, came from his ward east of the Anacostia River.
"We feel we ought to be able to have firearms," said 85-year-old William O. Woodson, a former chief investigator of the city's Alcoholic Beverage Control board who lives in the Capitol View neighborhood in Ward 7 and represents the United Licenses Beverage Association, a group of about 350 businesses that sell alcoholic beverage.
"You ought to give some consideration to the taxpayers," Woodson said.
John Aquilino, director of public education for the National Rifle Association of America, who said his mother lives in Southeast Washington, praised Crawford's bill as the beginning of a "movement toward rethinking the basic assumptions underlying the city's current repressive gun laws."
Council member John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2), author of the original gun control law, scoffed at Aquilino's contention that people can be trained to use handguns properly.
"Why would a person be calm and cool" when "someone is trying to take their money," Wilson asked? "I reach . . . absolute anger. I might shoot everybody on F Street. I would rather have my existence protected by the police department than 50 gun-wielding businessmen."
Other opponents of the measure included the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Greater Washington Area Social Action Committee of the Unitarian Universalist churches and the National Coalition to Ban Handguns, of which Ware is chairman.
Supporters of the proposal included the Citizens Center for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, four union leaders at the city's jail and Lorton prison complex and a representative of the Improved Benevolent Protective Order of the Elks of the World.