The Spin on DC Gun Laws

The Spin on DC Gun Laws

Reconciling District of Columbia handgun law with the U.S. Supreme Court’s fuzzy District of Columbia vs Heller decision will begin with a spin — the spin of a revolver cylinder.

Contrary to popular belief, Washington, DC bristles with private citizens carrying sidearms. Most of them wear square badges, uniforms, and gun permits in plastic pockets pinned on their shirts like fishing licenses. None of them wear semiautomatic (“self-loading”) pistols; they carry revolvers, “six-shooters,” “wheel guns.” They are armed private security guards registered with the city’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). You’ve heard about one of them: Dick Heller.

Mr. Heller is a security guard who works at the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judicial Center (FJC), which is on U.S. Capital grounds but was built and is run by private firms and leased back to the government. Mr. Heller, licensed to carry a revolver at his job site but denied permission to keep handguns at home, was selected by Robert A. Levy of the Cato Institute to challenge the D.C. gun law in the courts.

In the District of Columbia, private guards are registered with the MPD’s Security Officers Management Branch. Most guards are not armed; those who are must also register with the MPD Firearms Registration Section. Pre-Heller DC law limited armed security guards to carry only revolvers, which makes sense when you recall that this is a 1976 law, passed at a time when sworn police officers carried revolvers, which are inherently safer than autoloaders.

Most revolvers can fire five or six rounds before reloading; semi-automatic pistols often have eight-to-thirteen shot capacity and may be modified to hold up to 30 bullets. DC law bans any firearm that can fire “[s]emiautomatically, more than 12 shots without manual reloading,” prohibiting machine guns, assault weapons, and semi-automatic pistols [D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2501.01(10)(B)].

Now that DC vs Heller allows adult DC citizens without histories of felony, violence, or mental-health issues to have handguns in their homes, the DC Government’s immediate response is to extend the 30-year-old security guard regulations to household handguns — revolvers yes, semi-automatics no. 

75 percent of the handguns sold in the U.S. today are the slimmer, higher-capacity semi-automatics. This local regulation will undoubtedly be the next DC firearms law to be tested in the courts.

NotionsCapital initially thought DC’s Acting Attorney General Peter Nickles did not know the difference between automatic and semi-automatic firearms. Our apologies; we regret the error.

 Image: Stefan “Säli”

4 Responses to “The Spin on DC Gun Laws”

  1. Mr T Says:

    I hope that DC takes up the Texas gun law. It would be nice to wear my pistol all around town.

  2. Mike Licht Says:

    I hope that DC takes up the Texas gun law.

    Mr T: are you including the “Mutual Combat” (gunfight) provision?

  3. New DC Gun Law « NotionsCapital Says:

    […] semi-automatic handguns are classified as machine guns in the DC Code, and D.C. citizens will not be allowed to register them. The choice […]

  4. Washington Handgun Registration Today « NotionsCapital Says:

    […] are limited to a capacity of 12 rounds, and for 32 years the city has interpreted this to mean revolvers only, which will come as a shock for more handgun owners, as 75 percent of them probably own […]

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