Orrin Hatch, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wants Washington, D.C., residents to be able to own handguns legally. His proposal revives a pitched debate over gun control in a city with some of the toughest restrictions in the nation, the Washington Post says. A bill introduced Tuesday by the Utah Republican would repeal the District’s ban on handguns, end strict requirements for ammunition and other firearms, and lift prohibitions on the possession or carrying of weapons at homes and workplaces.
Washington’s 1976 gun law has been a frequent target of gun rights activists, but it has withstood assaults as recently as 1999, when the House of Representatives failed to enact gun-control legislation that included its repeal. The involvement of Hatch and the recent success of congressional candidates supported by gun rights groups provide fresh impetus for a showdown over gun limits in the nation’s capital.
Washington’s per-capita murder rate hovered between third- and seventh-highest from 1994 to 2001 among cities with more than 100,000 residents. Calling the Washington the “murder capital of the United States,” Hatch said the gun prohibition is “as ineffective and deplorable as it is unconstitutional.” Most key city officials oppose Hatch’s proposal. Said congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton: “The only thing that would cause more murder and mayhem in this city is allowing freer access to guns.”
Washington’s laws, combined with a surge in violent, drug-related crime in the 1980s, has put the city at the center of an ongoing dispute over the restrictions’ effectiveness. In the 1999 debate, D.C. police reported that 88 percent of D.C. homicides in the previous four years were gun-related and that about 8,700 robberies were committed with firearms. Nearly half the guns used in D.C. crimes were purchased in neighboring states, police said in 1999, with 23 percent coming from Virginia and 20 percent from Maryland.