From Guns in American Society: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics, Culture, and the Law (ABC/Clio: 1st ed. 2002).
By David B. Kopel
is the center of the American gun control movement. It is the city where the
gun control movement's power is greatest, and where very strict anti-gun laws have been enacted.
one of the major American anti-gun groups is located in
D.C.: the Brady Campaign, Americans for Gun
Safety, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, and the
Center. In the 1990s, efforts
were made to create national anti-gun groups in San Francisco (the Bell
Campaign and the Million Mom March), but both of these groups could not maintain
an independent existence; Bell was absorbed into Million Mom March, which was
in turn absorbed into the Brady Campaign.
not one of the major pro-gun groups is headquartered in
The NRA and Gun Owners of America are in
and the Second Amendment Foundation and the Citizens Committee for the Right to
Keep and Bear Arms are in
Washington state. These headquarters
decisions reflect the different groups' contrasting political strengths.
the pro-gun movement is strongest at the state level. When one accounts for
right-to-carry handgun laws (now enacted in 33 states) and pre-emption laws (which
exist in 42 states) to abolish or restrict local gun ordinances, the net result
of gun debate over the last several decades in many states has been for
the gun control movement is strongest in
D.C. With the important exception
of the Firearms Owners' Protection Act, passed in 1986, virtually all gun
legislation enacted by Congress since 1968 has been towards increasing control.
D.C., has proved to a forum where anti-gun
lobbies can win national restrictions which have failed to win approval in the
majority of states as statewide laws, such as the Brady Act. The 1994 federal "assault
weapon" ban was a particularly vivid demonstration of the difference in
political forums. When Congress enacted the ban, which covered approximately
200 types of firearms by name or by generic description, only four states had
enacted any sort of "assault weapon" ban (California, New Jersey, Hawaii, and
Maryland), and only in California and New Jersey did the ban encompass long
Congress is almost always a better venue for gun control advocates than state
legislatures, a better venue still is the
Washington bureaucracy. Congresspeople
are accountable, at election time, to non-Washington constituencies, while bureaucrats
are not. Thus, from 1995 to 2000, while Congress enacted no major new gun
control legislation, the
administration imposed a wide variety of new controls, such as new bans on
firearms imports, additional restrictions on licensed firearms dealers,
and lawsuits against
gun prohibition advocates, such as the
want gun prohibition power to be further entrenched in
Washington, away from the political
influence of states. The VPC argues that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms
has the unexercised power to prohibit unsafe gun designs, and this power should
be used to ban the manufacture of all handguns and many long guns.
besides being a locus for the creation of national gun laws, also serves as an
important model for gun control, with its strict municipal ordinances.
Washington prohibits the
possession of handguns, although people who owned handguns when the ban when
into effect in 1977 have been allowed to keep them.
Washington requires that long guns be stored
either locked or disassembled, thus rendering them of little use for defense in
a sudden emergency. The carrying of defensive firearms is forbidden, with
exceptions made for security personnel who protect government officials. The
city imposes absolute liability (not merely strict liability) on injuries resulting
from "assault weapons." The liability ordinance even allows a criminal who is
injured by a lawful act of self-defense to sue the gun manufacturer. Thus far,
no lawsuits have been brought under the ordinance.
1992, the Senate voted to repeal the liability ordinance, as an exercise of
Congress's constitutional authority over D.C. Senator Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.),
however, had the liability repeal removed in a conference committee. In 1999,
the House of Representatives voted to repeal the D.C. handgun ban, but the
repeal was attached to broader legislation about juvenile crime, which never
emerged from the House-Senate conference committee. The gun control groups
which do not formally advocate handgun prohibition (the Brady Campaign and
Americans for Gun Safety) have opposed repeal of the D.C. handgun ban.
suffers a very high violent crime rate, and in some years has earned the title
"Murder Capital of the
States." Gun rights advocates see a
self-evident connection between D.C.'s gun laws and its crime problem. Gun
control advocates tend to argue that the real problem is the allegedly lax gun
Virginia, which prevent D.C.'s laws from
1994 article in the New England Journal
of Medicine argued that
handgun ban had saved lives, until the crack epidemic of the 1980s intervened. A
reply article by Gary Kleck condemned the NEJM article as a textbook case of data manipulation.
Washington's status as a
gun control capital is somewhat ironic in light of its namesake George
Washington. President Washington was an avid gun collector, owning over fifty
handguns, muskets, and other firearms, and corresponding with Thomas Jefferson
about the joys of gun ownership.
For further reading:
District of Columbia Gun Laws,
Stephen P. Halbrook,
Second-Class Citizenship and the
Second Amendment in the District of Columbia, 5 George Mason
University Civil Rights Law Journal 105 (1995),
Gary Kleck, Chester Britt III and
David J. Bordua, "A reassessment of the D.C. gun law: some cautionary notes on
the use of interrupted time series designs for policy impact assessment."
Law & Society Review 30(2):361-380 (1996).
David McDowall, Brian Wiersema
& Talbert J. Cottey, "Effects of restrictive
licensing of handguns on homicide and suicide in the
District of Columbia," New England Journal
of Medicine, 325: 1615-20 (1991).
See also: Congressional Voting
Patterns on Gun Control
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