Tuesday, September 28, 2004


Rollback in D.C. could be influential

WASHINGTON--When I moved here as a student in the early 1980s, I was appalled to learn that the city had passed an almost complete ban on the ownership of firearms, leaving me with no real means to defend my home or property. On Wednesday, the House will vote on a bill to restore to the residents of the District of Columbia the right to defend themselves.

The citywide gun ban is one of the country's strictest, requiring even the few rifles and shotguns that are allowed be disassembled, unloaded and locked up.... Preventing law-abiding people from owning guns in their homes (there is no talk of allowing residents the right to carry concealed handguns) has done nothing to reduce crime, which has skyrocketed in part due to police mismanagement and corruption. In the five years after the ban took effect in 1976, the murder rate rose to 35 per 100,000 people from 27. In fact, in the three decades since the ban took effect, the annual murder rate has only once fallen below what it was in 1976. In 2002 the murder rate hit 46 per 100,000 people. Robbery rates have also risen dramatically.

Washington residents tell me that the police response times to reports of crime are atrocious, and inner-city residents and the elderly are more vulnerable because the bad guys know they will likely be unarmed. Little wonder that last year six local citizens filed a civil suit in federal court seeking to overturn the gun ban..... District officials did reluctantly legalize pepper spray a decade ago, but they have turned a deaf ear to those who point out that district residents in high-crime areas are helpless until the police are able to respond to a call. That's why Rep. Mark Souder, an Indiana Republican, has introduced a bill that would restore the right of law-abiding, mentally competent citizens to own rifles, shotguns and handguns in the district.

Mr. Souder has assembled a diverse group of co-sponsors, including 41 House Democrats. Among supporters of ending the gun ban are Rep. Ciro Rodriguez of Texas, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and Rep. Sanford Bishop of Georgia, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. Another supporter is Carol Moseley Braun, the famously liberal ex-senator from Illinois, who told district residents during her presidential campaign that she supported ending the gun ban because she believes the Constitution guarantees the right to own guns.

Once Mr. Souder's bill has passed the House it will be sent to the Senate; between 48 and 51 Senators either favor it or are leaning in favor of it. No doubt this is one bill liberal senators will filibuster, so it won't become law this year.

The debate over the district's draconian gun ban should provide valuable lessons for other cities that have foolishly tried to fight crime by disarming their citizens. Chicago's gun ban, passed in 1982, has done nothing to curb that city's murder rate even though its police force is well-trained and well-equipped and has a good relationship with neighborhood leaders. Chicago's murder rate was 5.5 times as high as that of five surrounding counties in 1982, when gun control passed. During the next five years the murder rate soared to 12 times as great as in the neighboring counties.

Gun control is bad for public safety, in large part because criminals ignore gun bans that honest people feel compelled to follow. Bob Levy, a scholar at the Cato Institute in Washington, says lifting the Washington gun ban is a moral issue. "Right now, if someone breaks into a poor person's home here, their only choice is to call 911 and pray the police arrive in time," he says. "That's not good enough, and let's hope members of Congress grant the right to bear arms to people who can't afford to live in the safe neighborhoods they go home to at night".

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Opponents of bear hunting in Maryland said they plan to file a lawsuit today aimed at stopping the state's first bear season in 51 years, which is scheduled to begin late next month. The hunting opponents said yesterday that their suit will allege that the state Department of Natural Resources did not do enough research on the black bear population.... They should essentially have to do their homework before rushing to judgment and deciding that bears have to be killed for trophies," said Michael Markarian, president of the Silver Spring-based Fund for Animals. The suit names as plaintiffs the fund, the Humane Society of the United States and three Maryland residents, he said.

Heather Lynch, a spokeswoman for the department, said yesterday that the agency would not comment. In the past, state scientists have defended their estimates of the bear population and said a hunt is the best way to control a bear population that threatens to spread into more populated counties in the state's eastern half.....

The state banned bear hunting in the 1950s when only about a dozen bears were counted. But the animals have come back in Maryland and across the East Coast, helped by limited hunting and forest re-growth. State biologists, reacting to an increase in complaints about bears raiding cornfields and trash cans, this spring proposed a new hunting season.

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