Friday, June 27, 2008

Handgun Ruling Not Just a Constitutional Issue

The sounds of handgun fire are not foreign to most who live in DC.

Yesterday the Supreme Court handed down a decision that will have sweeping implications for the the same residents whether they supported the ruling or not. The court ruled, in common 5-4 fashion, specifically that the District's handgun ban was unconstitutional and generally that American individuals have the right to own guns. The District laws had been in place for more than 30 years and made owning a handgun a logistical and legal near impossibility. The ban was absolute, but complete enforcement was nearly impossible.

Recently, I felt the sting of gun violence in DC. Many of you may have known Timothy Spicer of Ben's Chili Bowl. I had gotten to know him from eating there almost daily, at the counter and we always had a good laugh whenever I visited. He shared his dreams of starting his own business and moving up in the world. Tim was 25. He was killed late last year, in DC by the hand of someone with a gun, during a car jacking. I was devastated along with his other friends, family and colleagues. Ben's maintains a nice and moving tribute to him in the back room.

I had assumed that most people in DC who really wanted a gun, had a gun, legally or illegally. But I understand why the ruling was struck down. Essentially, DC had been staring a Constitutional showdown in the face for over 30 years. The strict handgun ban laws had tempted gun rights advocates many times. However, none of the cases, or at least a definitive guns rights case had made it to the Supreme Court. It took a case this clear cut for the issue to be resolved. For now.

The ruling does not mean that there will be DC residents legally packing guns at restaurants, on the Metro and buses or on street corners. Mayor Fenty has vowed to limit the ownership ruling to households only; meaning conceal and carry will still be strictly regulated and probably still banned. You will, however have the right to lawfully own, and keep loaded, a handgun in your own home. Those who were illegally carrying guns will do nothing different because of the ruling! They will go on illegally carrying guns just as they did last week or last year.

I can't begin to speculate what the ruling means for the violent crime rate. No one really knows if it will go up, down, remain the same, or change for other reasons. It's just too early. I do know that there will be more residents with guns though. That's nearly a foregone conclusion. And that does not make me happy.