WASHINGTON – Washington, D.C. homeowners shouldn’t expect to lock and load anytime soon as an effort to repeal a nearly 30-year ban on handgun ownership (search) in the district has hit a snag despite Republican gains in the U.S. Senate that might draw more gun-friendly lawmakers to Capitol Hill.
"It still has an improved chance," said Dan Whiting, spokesman for Republican Sen. Larry Craig (search) of Idaho, who had co-sponsored legislation to repeal the gun ban and had hoped to attach the measure to the 2005 D.C appropriations bill.
But opponents of the gun ban say D.C. residents are wary of turning back the clock prior to 1976, the year the ban on all handguns was put into place and the nation’s toughest gun law was enacted.
"Every day I am witnessing someone who’s been shot or murdered on these mean city streets," said Hannah Hawkins, who runs Child of Mine (search), a center that counsels at-risk youth in the greater D.C.-metro area. "It’s become more dangerous because of non-restrictive gun laws in other jurisdictions, like Virginia and Maryland," just over the border.
Before the election, the move to ease D.C.'s gun law had no strong support among Senate members, who hoped to avoid a fight over gun control right before voters went to the polls.
"I don’t want to discount it," said Whiting, who added that hope persisted that Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the author of the District of Columbia Personal Protection Act, would pursue the repeal in the 109th Congress. Passing it during the brief "lame-duck" session just before the winter recess appears unlikely.
"I’m sure it will be revived," he said. Sen. Hatch’s office did not return phone calls on the issue.
Sources on Capitol Hill say the National Rifle Association was instrumental in pushing the issue successfully through the House 250-171 on Sept. 29. It had 45 Democratic co-sponsors and enjoyed the final support of 52 Democrats.
"Really, it was a total victory," said Martin Green, spokesman for Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., one of the chief sponsors of the bill. "Members of Congress made sure that the rights that the rest of the country enjoy – the Second Amendment – are also enjoyed by those in the nation’s capital."
Chris W. Cox, chief lobbyist for the NRA, said the firearm-advocacy organization is both pursuing the repeal of the handgun ban legislatively and is assisting several district residents in suing the city for their gun ownership rights.
"At the core (of the Second Amendment) is the right to defend yourself and your family from criminal attack," said Cox, who said that "layer upon layer" of gun control laws in the nation's capital over the last 30-years have stripped away this protection. He said the congressional fixes would also repeal a law that says homeowners can only have "long guns" like rifles and shotguns if they are registered and remain unloaded and disassembled in the home.
"You better hope you have a shoe or something to throw" because there is no way a disassembled weapon is going to allow a homeowner to quickly confront an intruder, Cox said. "We are committed to restoring the basic right to self defense."
Hawkins, on the other hand, insists that not only should the ban stay in place, but they should ban bullets, too. D.C Mayor Anthony Williams joined his police chief and the superintendent of schools in testifying before Congress in September against repealing the ban.
Sharon Gang, spokesman for Williams, said the mayor believes it to be a truly bad idea.
"The last thing this city needs is more weapons on the streets," she told FOXNews.com. "The mayor was very vehement about that."
But gun-rights advocates have long argued that taking away guns from law-abiding citizens does not deter crime but actually increases it since criminals know that their victims won’t be packing firearms and are easier prey.
Crime statistician John Lott Jr., has said that D.C’s crime actually rose since 1977, after it had been on the decrease for the five years preceding the first year of the gun ban. When the City Council passed the ban, it no doubt wanted to combat gun crimes. But Lott has said the ban has had the opposite effect.
According to FBI Uniform Crime Report statistics, the district had 192 murders in 1977, when the population was 690,000 people. In 2000, the population had declined to 572,000, but experienced 239 murders. According to the most recent figures, murders rose to 264 in 2002 and dropped a bit to 248 in 2003.
Critics point out that the number of murders rose and fell since 1977, flying the face of Lott’s theory. Murders actually peaked in 1991 at 482. Violent crime like rape and armed assault had also peaked in the early 1990s and then fell along with the violent crime rates throughout the country.
But Lott points out in his book "More Guns, Less Crime," that jurisdictions that weaken restrictions on gun ownership, or allow its citizens to apply for conceal-carry permits, actually see a greater decrease in crime than the national average. Members of Congress say this can happen in the District of Columbia, which has long been plagued by high crime attributed to street gangs and the drug trade in the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
Mayor Anthony Williams does not buy the argument, however.
"He feels this is an all-out assault on common sense and decency, and on the home rule of the district," said Gang.
Cox insists that because the district is not a state and its laws are subject to congressional oversight, residents cannot expect what "unreasonable" gun laws to stand. Green said new conservative senators could make the difference in the next Congress and advocates of the repeal will keep the pressure on.
"The House has done its work," said Green. "The Senate has changed a lot in the election so maybe it could have an effect on this legislation."