Guns Off D.C. Streets

The District of Columbia again has the nation's highest murder rate, according to FBI statistics. It's held the title of Murder Capital, USA, for 14 of the past 15 years. That alone makes last week's House of Representatives vote to overturn a 1976 ban on guns in Washington, D.C., that much more egregious.

Never mind that Congress allowed the nationwide assault weapons ban to expire a few weeks ago.

The legislation, called the D.C. Personal Protection Act, passed along mostly partisan lines - 250 to 171. Yet the minority offered no alternative to this bad bill that gives District citizens (the law-abiding ones) the right to own firearms - rifles, shotguns, and handguns - and keep them in their homes or businesses.

The bill would also repeal registration requirements for ammunition. And it would decriminalize possession of unregistered weapons.

Making the bill even less sensible is the fact that between January and September of this year, 97 percent of the guns used in District crimes came from outside the city's boundaries. Clearly, local officials need all the help they can get rounding up illegal guns.

My, how gun politics has changed. In 1999, an attempt to repeal the city's gun laws failed 250-175. Even though the House-approved bill thankfully isn't likely to pass the Senate, the vote, as political posturing to assuage gun rights advocates in various representatives' districts, was unnecessary. The National Rifle Association says it will use this vote to determine who m to endorse in some congressional races. It trivializes a very serious issue in the nation's capital.

For the past 38 years, Washington has had some of the most restrictive gun laws in the nation, and rightly so. Sixteen children have been fatally shot in the District this year alone, many of them in the poorer Southeast quadrant of the city. Indeed, the murder rate among juveniles has been rising. The police chief already has said the bill, if passed, would bring a "tidal wave" of guns to criminal hands.

What's really needed is a vigorous new campaign against gun violence, aimed at District youth. That, and keeping guns off D.C. streets.

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