D.C. Police Chief Maurice T. Turner said yesterday that he supports a recent proposal to temporarily lift the city's freeze on handguns to permit residents who illegally possess guns to register them for use as self-protection in their homes.
In a statement that put him at odds with his boss, Mayor Marion Barry, Turner criticized the city's 5-year-old gun control law, one of the toughest in the nation, as ineffective.
"What has the gun control law done to keep criminals from getting guns? Absolutely nothing," Turner said. He said city residents "ought to have the opportunity to have a handgun and to legally use it in their homes.
"If someone was breaking into your house, wouldn't you want a gun to protect yourself?" the chief said.
Earlier this week, D.C. council member H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7), citing the rising crime rate in Washington, proposed that the gun freeze be lifted to permit additional pistols to be registered by the end of the year. Crawford said his purpose was to permit those "who have not been able to legitimately arm themselves to protect their businesses and their persons."
Turner said yesterday that he would oppose permitting city store owners to have handguns. "It is already legal for them to own shotguns and rifles," he said.
The gun control law, which took effect in 1977, required the registration of all currently owned handguns, rifles and shotguns. In an effort to freeze the number of legal handguns in the city, it also banned the sale or possession of additional handguns by private citizens and required residents to keep pistols unloaded and inoperable.
Since it took effect, the overall number of handgun-related deaths in Washington has declined, according to a study released in 1980.
As a nominee for police chief last June, Turner criticized the gun law as ineffective and said citizens should be allowed to register and own handguns if they wish. Yesterday, as chief, he reiterated those points, acknowledging that his own views on the subject differ from those of the mayor, who nominated him.
"I believe a person has a right to buy and own a gun. But I think it should be registered. The mayor believes that you shouldn't own a gun . But you ought to talk to him about that," Turner said.
Barry, like Turner, has said publicly that the gun control law has not stopped the proliferation of guns in the city. In late 1980, Barry proposed that all those who kept illegal guns in their homes for protection turn them in to police, "no questions asked," and install alarm systems instead.
Yesterday, Barry's press secretary said that the mayor does not believe that the difference of opinion between him and his police chief hinders law enforcement in the city.
"Both men are committed to enforcing all laws passed by the council, approved by the mayor and approved by Congress. The mayor recognizes that we all have our freedom of thoughts and beliefs," said Annette Samuels.
"He cannot demand that a person change his personal beliefs," Samuels said. "He can command that he carry on his job, and the mayor is satisfied that Chief Turner will do that."
In support of his argument that gun control is ineffective, Turner said yesterday that less than 1 percent of the estimated 2,800 handguns confiscated by city police each year are registered.
Samuels said Barry has neither read nor taken a stand on Crawford's proposal, noting, however, that "up to this point, he has opposed any changes in the gun control law."
"The mayor doesn't think the gun control law is effective because surrounding jurisdictions do not have similar strong laws against handguns," she said, but he supports the law because "he wants his city to be as safe as possible." Turner expressed support for the Crawford proposal in response to reporters' questions at a press conference scheduled to present the city's monthly crime statistics for February.
On average, major reported crime in Washington increased 8 percent last February compared to February 1981 and 30 percent compared to February 1980.
The largest crime increase was in rapes, which went up 43 percent, from 21 in February 1981 to 30 rapes last February. Larcenies were up 18 percent, auto thefts up 16 percent and robberies up 2 percent.
Aggravated assaults decreased 14 percent, homicides dropped 5 percent and burglaries declined 2 percent, police said.
The biggest drop in overall crime occurred in the 1st District, which includes parts of downtown, Capitol Hill and Southwest. The biggest increases were 23 percent in the 2nd District (which largely covers Northwest Washington west of Rock Creek Park), and 15 percent in the 3rd District (which covers most of the inner-city area of Northwest Washington, including the 14th Street strip and many major drug-dealing corridors).
Turner blamed much of the increase on drug-dependent criminals who steal to support their addiction. Overall, crime during the first two months of 1982 is up 2 percent over the same period a year earlier, Turner reported.