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Despite shootings, lobbies will get their way
How D.C. tried to protect itself from the Navy Yard shootings

Date published: 9/24/2013


--The horrible irony of the Navy Yard shootings is that they took place in a city that has led the nation in gun control legislation.

For more than three decades, beginning in 1976, Washington had the strictest gun laws in the country. Basically, unless you were a law enforcement officer, it was impossible to get a permit to own--let alone carry--a gun.

But the city could not exist as an island of rational gun control in a sea of virtually unlimited gun access. Its southern neighbor, Virginia, has few obstacles to purchasing guns either at a gun shop, where a background check takes about three minutes, or from an individual, in which case no background check is required.

Rather than support the preference of the local community for gun restrictions, conservatives in Congress and the NRA tried to get rid of the law. Because unlike any other jurisdiction in the nation, the District of Columbia's laws must be approved by Congress and the White House. Although a number of bills to end D.C.'s gun limitations were passed in the House of Representatives by a Republican majority, none ever became law.

Then along came Dick Heller, a security guard at the Federal Judicial Center. In 2003, Heller filed a lawsuit against the city to be allowed to register his gun, a task that was illegal in D.C. at the time. The case eventually went to the Supreme Court, and on June 26, 2008, the conservative bloc ruled in a 5-4 decision that Heller and other individuals, as opposed to just state militias, had the right to "keep and bear" arms at home.

D.C. city leaders set out to construct the most restrictive gun law allowable in the context of the ruling by the court. It requires mandatory training in gun safety, a background check, fingerprinting, a written test, a ballistics testing, a 10-day waiting period, and a prohibition against concealed and open gun carrying. Initially, D.C.'s liberated gun owners were restricted from owning semi-automatics, but the city caved on that issue.

While it is likely that the city still has the most restrictive gun law in the nation, the bottom line is that individuals can now legally arm themselves.

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