If there’s any place in America where everything must go smoothly, it’s Washington D.C., the city that runs the country. And that’s true of gun control, which went as smoothly in Washington D.C. as it has everywhere else.
The formula is simple. Ban guns. Encourage criminals.
As a former prosecutor in Washington, D.C., who enforced firearms and ammunition cases while a severe local gun ban was still in effect, I am skeptical of the benefits that many imagine will result from additional gun-control efforts. I dislike guns, but I believe that a nationwide firearms crackdown would place an undue burden on law enforcement and endanger civil liberties while potentially increasing crime.
The D.C. gun ban, enacted in 1976, prohibited anyone other than law-enforcement officers from carrying a firearm in the city. Residents were even barred from keeping guns in their homes for self-defense.
Some in Washington who owned firearms before the ban were allowed to keep them as long as the weapons were disassembled or trigger-locked at all times. According to the law, trigger locks could not be removed for self-defense even if the owner was being robbed at gunpoint. The only way anyone could legally possess a firearm in the District without a trigger lock was to obtain written permission from the D.C. police. The granting of such permission was rare.
The gun ban had an unintended effect: It emboldened criminals because they knew that law-abiding District residents were unarmed and powerless to defend themselves. Violent crime increased after the law was enacted, with homicides rising to 369 in 1988, from 188 in 1976 when the ban started. By 1993, annual homicides had reached 454.
It’s an open consequences like these are considered a bug or a feature. It might just be a little of both.
Since the gun ban was struck down, murders in the District have steadily gone down, from 186 in 2008 to 88 in 2012, the lowest number since the law was enacted in 1976. The decline resulted from a variety of factors, but losing the gun ban certainly did not produce the rise in murders that many might have expected.
And why didn’t it lead to a surge of people shooting each other? Because anyone with murder on their minds could already get access to a gun.
In 2007, a panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that the city’s gun ban was unconstitutional. Senior Judge Laurence H. Silberman wrote in the majority opinion that “the black market for handguns in the District is so strong that handguns are readily available (probably at little premium) to criminals. It is asserted, therefore that the D.C. gun control laws irrationally prevent only law abiding citizens from owning handguns.”
Gun control advocates will of course argue that if only we had banned guns nationwide, then criminals wouldn’t have been able to get their hands on them. Just like they can’t get their hands on heroin, cocaine and meth.