Prospects for emergency gun bill uncertain
Thursday, July 3, 2008

The chairman of the D.C. Council's public safety committee said Wednesday he is still uncertain whether to address the District's ban on handguns with emergency legislation, despite growing pressure from groups on both sides of the issue.

Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, said D.C. Interim Attorney General Peter J. Nickles has yet to say what he thinks the city should do regarding the Supreme Court decision last week that the District's 32-year-old handgun ban is unconstitutional.

"I think it's clear that there are some short-term fixes that we can pursue," Mr. Mendelson said Wednesday after a public safety committee hearing. "It's not clear, however, whether we would need to act on an emergency basis and it didn't help that the executive wasn't willing to share that information with the public today."

Mr. Mendelson introduced a bare-bones bill Tuesday that would allow residents to register handguns and remove home storage provisions that require guns to be disassembled or have trigger locks, the two main issues affected by the ruling.

Mr. Nickles on Monday sent a letter to Mr. Mendelson, asking that the council not take action regarding handgun regulations until Metropolitan Police Department draft legislation is submitted at a legislative hearing July 15.

Mr. Nickles also did not send a representative to the hearing Wednesday, during which the council heard public testimony on the matter for the first time since the ruling was made June 26.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Nickles did not respond to a request for comment late Wednesday.

Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, a Democrat, has said he may convene an emergency session to deal with gun legislation during the council's summer recess, which begins July 19. Otherwise, the council would not hear testimony on the bill until it reconvenes in September.

Spokeswoman Doxie McCoy said Mr. Gray will likely defer to Mr. Mendelson in making that decision, which makes open communication between the council and executive crucial as residents, community groups and interest groups press the council for emergency legislation.

Residents and groups in support of the gun ban have said its removal will lead to more crime and open the market for illegal guns on D.C. streets.

Ronald Moten, co-founder of the youth advocacy group Peaceoholics, testified before the council Wednesday that he hopes to see tough laws to regulate gun dealers in the District, including mandatory minimum sentences for illegal sales.

"I want emergency legislation on the books so they know D.C. is not going to play about this," Mr. Moten said during his impassioned testimony.

Pro-gun groups say the District's top priority should be complying with the ruling as soon as possible and removing the city's restriction on semiautomatic guns.

Mike Stollenwerk, co-founder of, said he worries the District may be reluctant to change the law and do the minimum to comply with the ruling.

"In the short term, you should have emergency legislation to strike down the handgun ban," Mr. Stollenwerk said. "No. 2 they need to go into their basically bogus machine-gun statute and correct the definition so it doesn't include normal, garden variety, semiautomatic handguns."

Metropolitan Police Assistant Chief Peter J. Newsham said the department is looking at all of the issues that have surfaced as a result of the court's ruling and has not identified any single priority.

"We have to look at all the issues," Chief Newsham said. "When we issue our regulations, we want to be as comprehensive as we can."