Gun meddling

July 14, 2005

IN 1993, when Kay Bailey Hutchison moved to Washington, D.C., after being elected to the U.S. Senate from Texas, she had a problem with her .357 Magnum. In order to comply with the District's ban on handguns, she had to dismantle the gun she would have kept by her bedside, buy a travel case for it and then return it to her home state. Now she's fighting back with an ill-considered campaign to repeal the 1976 law. She and other members of Congress should pause a moment and rethink these attempts to undercut the District's crime-fighting efforts and its independence under home rule.

Like Baltimore, Washington has had a persistently high murder rate. The 1976 law, approved by the City Council and considered one of the most restrictive in the nation, bans residents from owning handguns, with a few exceptions, although rifles and shotguns are allowed. Even with the stiff restriction, the D.C. Police Department confiscates about 2,000 guns a year from the streets.

Still, Ms. Hutchison thinks the ban imposes an unfair imbalance between law-abiding residents and criminals. She and a fellow Republican, Rep. Mark E. Souder of Indiana, have introduced similar versions of the D.C. Personal Protection Act in the Senate and the House. Their bills would repeal the handgun ban and make it much easier for D.C. residents to keep weapons, registered and unregistered, in homes and workplaces. They justify meddling in the District's business with claims that the gun law violates the Constitution's Second Amendment and that it has not significantly reduced crime.

D.C. public officials, including Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, say that violent crime - including homicides - is decreasing, and even if the numbers aren't low enough to suit Congress, more guns in the hands of residents is not the answer. And any effort to loosen gun restrictions in the District could certainly weaken Maryland's own tough efforts to restrict gun sales and to ensure gun safety, particularly in homes with children.

Although a 2004 effort to repeal the gun ban stalled in the Senate, Ms. Hutchison's new bill has attracted more than 30 co-sponsors. In the meantime, the House is taking a piecemeal approach. It recently added to a D.C. appropriations bill an amendment that would allow local residents with children in the home to keep legal firearms loaded and unlocked.

D.C. officials have rightly denounced such maneuvers as an attack on home rule and on their efforts to combat gun violence. When it comes to tightening or loosening gun restrictions, Ms. Hutchison and her congressional comrades should back off and let D.C. citizens and their locally elected officials have the final say.

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