Gun Gap

D.C. firearm rules


"Since D.C.'s Handgun Ban Ended," said a headline in the February 8 Washington Post, "Well-Heeled Residents Have Become Well Armed." The story continued in the same vein: "In the 2½ years since the U.S. Supreme Court ended the District's handgun ban," Post reporter Paul Duggan wrote, "hundreds of residents in Washington's safest, most well-to-do neighborhoods have armed themselves, registering far more guns than people in poorer, crime-plagued areas of the city."

To those who welcomed D.C. v. Heller, the 2008 decision in which the Supreme Court ruled that D.C.'s gun ban violated the Second Amendment, the class angle is not the most striking thing about the registration data. More interesting than the correlation between income and gun ownership is the fact that almost no one in Washington, rich or poor, has taken advantage of the newly recognized right to arms, possibly because the registration process is so expensive and cumbersome.

When Post reporter Christian Davenport registered a handgun in 2009, he paid a total of $834, including $275 for a used .38-caliber revolver, $250 for a government-mandated gun safety course, $160 in transfer fees (because there are no licensed gun shops in D.C.), and $60 in police department charges. Completing the process required "a total of 15 hours 50 minutes, four trips to the Metropolitan Police Department, two background checks, a set of fingerprints, a five-hour class and a 20-question multiple-choice exam." Davenport, who was registering the gun as part of his job and therefore did not have to worry about taking time off from work, brought his revolver home two weeks after he began the process.

Given these obstacles, it's not surprising that since Heller only 1,400 guns have been registered in Washington, which has a population of about 600,000. Nor is it surprising that wealthier citizens would be more likely to complete the process. In a response to Duggan's story that was published on the Post's website, Cato Institute Chairman Robert Levy, who spearheaded Heller, noted that in affluent as well as poor neighborhoods only about 1 percent of households have registered guns. "The city is violating the spirit, if not the letter, of the Heller decision," he warned. "More litigation is sure to follow."  r