The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Washington, D.C. is drowning in a flood of illegal guns

Guns seized in the District. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

The security shutters were pulled down at the Under the Sun salon on Georgia Avenue NW when I stopped by at noon Tuesday. Getting your storefront window shattered by gunfire can make a business owner take that kind of action. So, too, can a bullet flying through the front window, grazing the neck of a 2-year-old inside the salon.

That shooting took place last Saturday night a short walk from my home. A man standing outside the salon was also wounded in the leg. The man and the toddler sustained non-life-threatening injuries. It's still not clear who was the intended target of the unknown shooter, who also put bullet holes in several businesses and three cars before leaving the scene.

It was another moment in the life of a city where shots are fired almost as frequently as clocks tick.

That’s because of guns. Have we got guns.

We have revolvers, rifles, shotguns, derringers and loads of pistols, with calibers of all kinds. Name it, we got it: 9mm, .22-caliber, .38-caliber, .40-caliber, .45-caliber, .380-caliber, .357-caliber, .32-caliber and .25-caliber. The caliber of choice, however, is 9mm.

How do I know this? Because the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) said so in its report on firearms recovered and traced in the District in 2014.

The illegal firearms in our nation’s capital have been used in assaults, drug deals, robberies, burglaries, sex crimes and, of course, homicides.

We have enough guns in the District to successfully conquer nations.

ATF reported that in 2014 alone it was asked to trace the origins of more than 1,300 firearms recovered in the District. The D.C. police department's public information office put the total number of firearms recovered in 2014 at 2,178. Not all weapons recovered by the police are referred to ATF for tracking.

The D.C. police reported that 1,609 firearms were recovered in 2015 and that this year is also off to a good start: 158 firearms recovered from Jan. 1 to Feb. 9.

Mind you, these are the weapons that authorities have recovered.

There is no way to determine how many illegal guns are present in homes and cars, or stashed in neighborhood hideaways or in the pockets and waistbands of passersby on the street. Illegal gun possession comes with no minimum age. ATF’s 2014 statistics show that most of the firearms were found in the possession of those 31 and older. But one possessor was 17 or younger, and 13 were 18 to 21.

The prevalence of guns is stunning.

That’s how a shooting in the street can victimize a toddler inside a hair salon with his mother by his side.

As of Feb. 11, there have been 388 robberies this year, up 28 percent over the same period in 2015. Guns figured in many of those crimes. So, too, with the 10 homicides that have occurred since New Year's Day.

It seems that in the District, every day is a day of the gun.

The scourge of gun proliferation fortunately is drawing attention beyond the D.C. line.

The region's attorneys general — Karl A. Racine of the District, Mark R. Herring of Virginia and Brian E. Frosh of Maryland — recently convened a first-of-its-kind meeting to discuss regional coordination in countering gun proliferation.

As Racine told his colleagues, “of the illegal guns recovered by our police that ATF is able to trace, over half were last legally purchased in Maryland and Virginia.” Most of the guns come from states along the Eastern Seaboard, he said, “and any gun must travel through Maryland and Virginia before getting to the District.”

The three AGs agreed that because gun trade is regional, solutions must be regional as well. The District, nonetheless, cannot let up on its efforts to catch and jail the shooters, and recover their weapons. School and community programs aimed at taking on the gun culture and the impulse to use weapons must be accelerated, too.

But the shooters can’t do what they do without help. Many are aided and abetted by gun dealers who exploit legal loopholes to supply the weapons used to shoot up the Georgia Avenues in our city.

Going after unscrupulous gun sellers with a better background-check system and more federal agents, as President Obama wants to do, might help keep lethal weapons out of the hands of the lawbreakers terrorizing D.C. neighborhoods.

But let’s not lose focus: The principal sources of the gun violence plaguing this city are the people pulling the triggers.

They do it by getting their dangerous hands on something most D.C. residents neither want nor need: guns.

Just ask the mother of that 2-year-old.

Read more from Colbert King's archive.

Read more on this topic:

Colbert I. King: Why is America so hostile to gun control?

The Post’s View: An overreaction on guns

Peter Galuszka: Virginia’s struggle with guns

Mark R. Herring: Simple choices on gun safety