Want to talk about gun violence? Look no further than our nation’s capital. With the exception of 2012, when the city recorded 88 homicides, there have been at least 100 homicides here every year since 1999, guns being the chief weapon of choice. As of Aug. 23, there had been 112 murders — up 14 percent from the same date last year — and with four months left in 2019.
The District’s gun violence, however, doesn’t draw the same attention as homicides that have occurred in places such as El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, or in Las Vegas; Newtown, Conn.; Orlando or Parkland, Fla. Our shooting deaths are spread over months and come with a regularity that allows the media to treat them as though they are part of normal D.C. life.
Mass murders that take place within the space of minutes tend to concentrate the nation’s mind and skew the nation’s perspective on death.
And that means the national response to gun violence gets focused on only one aspect of the carnage.
Almost all our anti-gun-violence proposals are developed with such horrific shootings in mind: background checks; “red flag” laws; bans on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines. Those measures, in my view, are reasonable responses to the slaughter. They, however, have little bearing on the District’s gun-violence problem.
The District’s 112 homicides are more than three times the number of lives lost in El Paso and Dayton over one deadly August weekend. This city already requires guns to be registered with the police and owners to undergo a National Crime Information Center background check and submit to fingerprinting. (I have, as a D.C. citizen and gun owner, experienced both. Pieces of cake, by the way.)
For more than a year, the District has had a red-flag law on the books that allows a family member or other third party to ask a court to remove a person’s gun because of mental-health concerns. No one, according to Washington City Paper, has ever used it.
The District prohibits registration of sawed-off shotguns, machine guns, short-barreled rifles, assault weapons and .50 BMG rifles.
What about large-capacity magazines, like the equipment that allowed the Dayton shooter to unload 41 rounds in 30 seconds, killing nine people? Here, too, D.C. regulations are clear: “No person in the District shall possess, sell, or transfer any large capacity ammunition feeding device regardless of whether the device is attached to a firearm. A ‘large capacity ammunition feeding device’ means a magazine, belt, drum, feed strip, or similar device that has a capacity of, or that can be readily restored or converted to accept, more than 10 rounds of ammunition.”
Weak gun laws are not the District’s problem.
Our twin plagues? The availability of illegal firearms and people bent on acquiring and using them.
D.C. police have recovered more than 1,000 illegal firearms this year; 6,000 in the past three years. One week — Aug. 12 through Aug. 19 — officers recovered 33 firearms. In three separate and sobering incidents, police arrested a 17-year-old juvenile with a Beretta 85 .380-caliber handgun; a 16-year-old juvenile with a Glock 17 9mm handgun; and a 15-year-old juvenile with a Ruger LC .380-caliber handgun.
The supply chain of illegal guns and users seems endless.
How has the city responded?
Last year, the District of Columbia Sentencing Commission voted to decrease sentences for felons convicted of illegally possessing a gun in the District and to reduce the impact of prior felon-in-possession convictions on any future sentence an offender might incur. That’s right: decrease and reduce.
D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham and U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu complained in a letter to The Post that sentencing changes will ensure that “repeat offenders who have committed gun crimes will be back on the street sooner . . . endangering our community.”
City Hall yawned.
Today, with the homicide rate climbing daily, the D.C. Council’s agenda has two pending public-safety issues: a bill that decriminalizes prostitution (buying and selling sex in the city) and “The Second Look Act of 2019,” a bill that, Liu said in a news release, “will give violent criminals (including rapists and murderers) an opportunity to reduce their sentences after only serving 15 years in prison and will expand eligibility to adults who committed their crimes before they turned 25-years-old.” According to Liu, “approximately 583 violent criminals will be immediately eligible to apply for release.”
The “Second Look” sponsor, D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), strenuously rejected Liu’s criticism. In a phone interview, Allen said Liu was “misinformed” and “fearmongering,” and he followed up with a lengthy written rebuttal.
Return to the central question: Regarding the city’s gun violence, what’s the response of the District’s lawmakers? Not so much. Prostitutes and prisoners come first.
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