Fifty-one percent of D.C. residents said they would like to reinstate a ban on gun ownership in the city that was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2008, according to a new Washington Post poll.
Almost as many, 47 percent, oppose the idea. Three percent have no opinion.
The finding comes as the District grapples with a 58 percent spike in homicides this year — almost all from gun violence — and that has sent crime to the top of residents’ concerns about the city, the poll showed.
With a solid half in support of a total gun ban, the poll’s findings will probably embolden D.C. politicians and gun-control advocates, who are fighting to keep intact lesser firearm restrictions that gun-rights advocates are contesting in federal courts.
On Friday, a federal appeals court will consider whether, in the absence of a ban, D.C. officials can continue to enforce certain restrictions on carrying firearms on the streets of the nation’s capital. A lower-court judge found the city’s requirement that a person state a “good reason” to obtain a concealed- carry permit “impinges” on the rights of most residents and visitors to exercise the right to bear arms in the District.
Going even further and reinstating a total ban on gun ownership is most popular among white residents (62 percent), particularly whites with college degrees (67 percent) and white women (65 percent), the poll found.
It is also popular among all residents with incomes of at least $100,000 (61 percent), residents younger than 30 (57 percent) and people who have lived in the city less than 10 years (60 percent).
Support for a gun ban falls to about 4 in 10 among residents with a high school education or less, and with incomes below $50,000. African Americans, particularly those living in areas of the city that have experienced a 50 percent increase in robberies at gunpoint this year, were also among the least supportive.
The city’s gun-control regulation at issue in court Friday requires individuals to show “good reason to fear injury,” backed up by evidence of specific threats or previous attacks.
Living or working in a high-crime area is not reason enough to obtain a license to carry under D.C. rules.
“Isn’t that in the...the 2nd Amendment, no they shouldn’t ban guns,” said Idriis Bilaal, 88, who spent two decades in the Army and lives in an area of D.C. north of Capitol Hill where robberies have been on the rise. “Guns don’t kill nobody, they just lay there. A man should be able to own a gun if he wants to. It doesn’t mean he has to use it wrongly.”
“This is America, you’ve always had a right to own a gun, and I think you should,” said a poll respondent who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is among the few who have gone through the process to legally register a gun in the District and considers that decision a private one.
A retiree who lives in a neighborhood north of Capitol Hill, the respondent said he obviously disagrees with a ban.
“You should have some protection, I’m 70 and that’s the way it used to be. Why shouldn’t you when all those criminals have guns? They don’t care about a ban on guns.”
Despite residents’ near-even split on a total gun ban, a slightly larger percentage was in agreement that a gun ban would probably do little to improve safety.
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier have blamed the flow of illegal guns into the city and violent repeat offenders for a large share of the city’s rising homicide tally this year. As of Wednesday, 144 people had been killed this year, compared with 91 at the same point a year ago.
Forty-three percent of poll respondents think a ban would have no impact in making the District safe; 12 percent said it would make the city less safe. Forty-two percent thought a complete ban on gun ownership would make the District safer.
Pearley Harmon, 76, a retired engineer who lives in Takoma Park, said he thinks that gun violence has increased since the Supreme Court struck down the city’s ban on handguns, and, if it were possible, he would like to see the ban restored.
“I think it’s gotten worse, and they should come up with stricter laws and do that as soon as possible,” Harmon said, although he acknowledged he wasn’t sure it would be very effective. “I don’t know that it would do very much, but I’d like to see them try.”
While residents said in the poll that crime is the city’s No. 1 problem, crime-focused respondents were not much more supportive of a ban on all guns or optimistic it would improve safety.
Barring a new interpretation of the Constitution by the Supreme Court, however, that is all but impossible.
In a 2008 ruling — District of Columbia v. Heller — the court effectively struck down an outright District ban on handgun ownership that had been in place for three decades. To the chagrin of gun-control advocates, it prompted the court to declare a Second Amendment right to own a firearm.
Ever since, the District has been in a series of rolling court battles to put in place the toughest restrictions still allowed under the law.
In addition to Friday’s case, the D.C. attorney general has asked the appeals court to reconsider a ruling in September that struck down the city’s one-gun-purchase-per-month law as unconstitutional.
But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld many of the city’s registration rules, including requirements for fingerprinting and a one-hour firearms safety course.
Shengquan “Michael” Dan, a recent American University graduate who grew up in China said he likes the idea of gun-control, but doesn’t believe a ban would curb gun violence because criminals and even terrorists would still seek to get them. “How do you set the standards?” he asked. “Look at Paris.”
The Washington Post poll was conducted Nov. 12 to 15 among a random sample of 1,005 adult District residents reached on conventional and cellular phones. The margin of sampling error for overall results is plus or minus four percentage points.