The Washington Dc Handgun Ban Criminology Essay

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The ban in Washington D.C started because there was too much violence in the district. More violent crimes were happening on our nation's capital than anywhere else in our country. More than half of home invasions involve a gun. So a home invasion could happen to you, and most likely there will be a gun involved. Think about you asleep at home and you're suddenly woken up by a noise. You realize that someone is in your house. Is that person there to hurt you or to steal from you? You don't know, but you decide to confront this person and see if it's someone you know. When you open the door and see that there is a stranger in your house you start to panic and try to run. The intruder also panics and fires his gun at you. This sort of thing happens all the time in the world but sometimes you can get the upper hand by arming yourself and training yourself for situations just like these. Imagine that same scenario but this time you are ready for him, when you open the door and realize that it's not a friend you immediately protect yourself and your family by taking care of the threat. For many years if you lived in Washington D.C you were not allowed to protect yourself with a handgun even in your own home. The handgun ban in D.C was a dark period of time for all who lived there because people were scared to go outside because of the guns and the drugs on the streets. The Washington D.C ban was ineffective because it didn't slow crime rates or decrease the underground gun market and it was against our civil rights under the second amendment in the Bill of Rights. .

Crime in Washington D.C

Washington, D.C., has enacted a number of strict gun-restriction laws. The Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975 prohibited residents from owning handguns, excluding those registered prior to February 5, 1977. This law was later overturned in March 2007 by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Parker v. District of Columbia." The ruling was upheld in June 2008 by the Supreme Court of the United States in District of Columbia v. Heller" (Lugwig, 54). Both of the courts held that the city's handgun ban violated peoples Second Amendment right to own a gun. However, the ruling does not exclude all forms of gun control; registration laws requiring firearm remain in place, as does the city's assault weapon ban. The city laws still prohibit carrying guns, both openly and concealed.

"In the five years before the handgun ban, the murder rate was at 37 and fell to 27 murders per 100,000. In the five years after the gun ban went into effect, the murder rate rose back up to 35. One thing that is hard to ignore is D.C.'s murder rate fluctuated after 1976 but only once fell below what it was in 1976 before the ban. Washington D.C saw violent crime rise and its residents run out of the city. In 1974, two years before the Washington D.C ban took effect, more than half of all homicides were committed with handguns. There were an estimated 22,000 registered gun owners in Washington D.C in 1976, but a Georgetown University poll found three out of four Washington D.C residents were in support of the bill. 

In 1977, the U.S. Conference of Mayors reported robberies, assaults and homicides involving handguns had fallen in Washington D.C. and revealed that the ban was working. The results were challenged by the District of Colombia police department, which stated that police tactics had contributed to the drop. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, murders climbed radically as Washington D.C, like other cities, was hit by the crack pandemic. 'In 1991, the number of homicides reached 479 or 81 deaths per 100,000 people, newspapers named D.C as Dodge City". (Jacobs, 234-36)

In the 1990s, the yearly homicide numbers began to decline as the crack faded away. In the past decade, many of Washington D.C's neighborhoods also have undergone recovery, bringing in more wealthy residents. Last year, there were 181 murders. But Washington D.C's location remains a problem for the law. Washington D.C is bordered by Virginia and Maryland, where guns are still legal, and many firearms can be traced just across the state line. "The number of guns apprehended by police has increased dramatically in recent years, reaching 2,924 in 2007, nearly 1,000 more than in 2003. Most of these guns were used in crimes." (O'Neil, 76)

Between 2008 and 2009, the FBI's numbers indicate that murders fell throughout the entire nation by 10 percent and by about 8 percent in cities that have between 500,000 and 999,999 people. Washington D.C's population is about 590,000. During that period of time, murders in Washington D.C fell 25 percent, dropping from 186 to 140. Washington D.C only started allowing its citizens to own handguns for defense again in November 2008.

Suicide is mostly committed by a gun, but in D.C the suicide rate didn't decrease radically in adults. It fluctuated normally even with the handgun ban. It did stop teen suicide completely, without access to a gun teens in D.C stopped committing suicide. The only reason that most people use a handgun when committing suicide is it's the easiest and fastest way. If someone is mentally unstable and are looking to kill themselves they will find a way.

The underground gun market in D.C, much to my surprise didn't increase as much as I would have thought, only because the people who buy guns underground are mostly teenage kids with a gang affiliation. The underground gun market has a low number of transitions, with poor quality guns at high prices. There is a low number of transactions with only about 1,500 a year.

Why is the Handgun ban in Washington D.C such a hot topic? A matter of opinion, some believe that less guns equals less crime, while other believe that more guns equals less crime. There is plenty of evidence to support both theories with multiple studies on both sides. Decreasing the amount of guns could decrease crime by making it harder for criminals to obtain a weapon. But will this stop crime? Most likely not, since crime has not stopped in any place with a gun ban.

Even after the ban was lifted it is still a chore to own a handgun in our nation's capital. A ten step process for registering a handgun makes it to where there are multiple stops at Metropolitan Police Department headquarters, and a couple of meetings with a gun dealer and not to mention biding time for snail mail, a process that could take weeks. Purchasing a firearm will also be a multiple step process given the method of licensed dealers in Washington D.C.

Critics have said that the Washington D.C. law is unsuccessful, saying that D.C has had hundreds of homicides in every year, most of which were committed with handguns. In 2007, 169 homicides, 137 were committed with firearms, D.C. Enforcing the handgun ban is very difficult with so many weapons on the streets, but police obtained more than 2,600 guns in 2007.

Was the Washington D.C. handgun ban successful? It's hard to measure what did happen in D.C. you can measure that crime stayed constant in rising and falling but did the lack of handguns in people's homes contribute to it in some way? Before the assault rifle ban, assault rifles made up 1% of homicides and after the ban it's still 1%. Most of the weapons that Washington D.C has strict regulations on are still available on the streets of D.C. according to the ATF. As a society we will always be looking for a way to stop violence, but violent behavior is in the human and not in the tool that he uses.

The Right to Bear Arms

The Washington D.C. handgun ban was in effect for over thirty years, and was only overturned by the courts because it was declared that the law was directly against our civil rights. The second amendment in the Bill of Rights states,

"A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a Free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."(U.S Constitution)

This amendment has more controversy surrounding it then any other amendment in the Bill of Rights. This is because of difference in opinion in what people's interpretation of the meaning of the amendment is. To understand it we must know the history of it, and why it was written into the Bill of Rights.

In 1787, The Bill of Rights was signed into the Constitution after much debate. Many drafts of the second amendment were made and were changed into what we know today as the second amendment. The initial proposed passage was,

"The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person." (Amar, 144)

This brought religion into the amendment and therefore was revised into what it is today.

With so much hostility in our country firearms play a big role in that violence, gun control advocates began to read the second amendment very one sided. On the other side, firearm enthusiasts viewed it as an attack on gun ownership and on our freedom, and they made a great effort in defending their interpretation of the second amendment. If the writers of the second amendment could have known that there was such a huge debate, they might have written the amendment differently; because so much of the debate is centered on the way the amendment is phrased. Americans attitude on the military was much different in the 1790's than it is today.

"In the war for our independence, there was a regular army, but much of the fighting had been done by militias, under the command of local officers. Militias were needed because attacks were fairly common, either by bandits, Indians, or even by other militias". (Cornell, 56)

Today, the militias have turned into the National Guard. These soldiers are part-time, and are efficiently trained and armed by the government. No longer are regular people expected to arm themselves in defense of the state or the nation.

People usually interpret the second amendment in one of two ways. One way is that the amendment was meant to ensure that people have the right to own and operate firearms; the second is that the amendment was meant to make certain that any state could form, arm, and maintain their own militias. Whichever way, it's a federal action only, because the second amendment has not been incorporated by the Supreme Court to pertain to the states. This means that within its own constitution, a state can make their own laws when it comes to how strict the regulation of firearms is. Private rules and policy may exclude or support any firearm.

In 2007, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in the case of Parker v District of Columbia.

"The court ruled in this case that Washington D.C. laws that prohibit private possession of handguns within the District were illegal. The residents of Washington D.C. were deprived of their second amendment rights by laws that the registration of handguns by anyone except retired D.C. police officers; that the possession of a pistol without a license, even in your own home; and that require that lawfully owned firearms are kept unloaded and disassembled unless it was being used for legal purposes". (Jacobs, 435)

A Court found that even though the first part of the second amendment refers to the militia, the second amendment's foundation is that guns would be used by people for protection and for hunting. The court recognized the history the militia played in the creation of the second amendment, but did not allow the militia to be the only thing viewed when looking at these laws restricting gun ownership. Parker was then allowed to keep his handgun in his home

The case, filed as District of Columbia v Heller, was proposed by the United States Supreme Court, and was heard in March, 2008. Two enormous questions were then raised. The first, raised by the District, was whether the district is prohibited by the second amendment to ban the ownership of handguns while still allowing the ownership of shotguns and rifles. The second issue was whether or not the second amendment guarantees that guns, including handguns, can be kept in homes by licensed citizens. The court decided that the issue it should hear is whether the laws in Washington D.C. violate the second amendment rights of individuals who are not associated with any state-regulated militia, but who wish to keep handguns and other firearms in their homes.

The Heller case ended in June, 2008. The Court, which voted for Heller in a close 5-4 decision, decided that the second amendment did, protect an individual right. The court noted that the case did not review any laws that regulate guns; the court did state that Heller and his associate petitioners had a right to own guns in their homes. The Court ruled that while logical regulation may be acceptable, the requirement that guns needed to be locked and disassembled was not practical. The Court finally noted that its ruling affected only the District of Columbia. It is likely that the laws in other cities, like Chicago, will be challenged so that the Court can examine the applicability of the second amendment to the rest of the nation.

Finding that balance between freedom and realistic regulation, between unreasonable unregulated ownership and unfair prior restraint is very tricky. Gun ownership is a right, and it's also a huge responsibility. With great gun responsibility comes the interest of the people to ensure that guns are used safely and are used by those with proper training and licensing. If we all can agree on this simple idea, it shouldn't be difficult to work out the details and find a compromise.

Underground Gun Market

Washington D.C. had a ban on handguns for thirty years, but guns were regularly available to anyone seeking to obtain a handgun illegally. To control the underground gun market in D.C we first need to understand first who's buying to weapons and for what purpose are they buying it for? Who's selling the weapons to them and how do we stop the transactions between them. How many guns are in circulation and being sold and reported stolen?

So are the people that buy handguns illegally and for what purpose? Like I mentioned before, the most common buyers of illegal handguns are teenage males that will buy one gun for a small group of three to five to be shared between them. These teenage males are usually gang affiliated and have purchased a handgun illegally and are used in robberies but they are mostly for self protection against other gang members. Most have never handled a handgun before and have no idea how it works or what kind of ammunition it uses. Gang members usually flash the gun at people to invoke fear to get what they want, and this technique usually works. I would guess that because of the lack of experience that most of these teenage males have with guns that they most likely either don't know how to operate the weapon or don't have the correct ammunition. The quality of the firearms are usually poor, because of the great cost to obtain a decent handgun. If I were approached by someone in the middle of a large city who had a small handgun, I would figure that he most likely didn't have the right ammo and so I would probably explode in his hand if he tried to fire his weapon.

Most guns used in crimes are not stolen out of private gun owners' homes and cars. Stolen guns only account for about 10% to 15% of guns used in crimes. When a criminal wants gun they want them immediately, the wait is usually too long for a weapon to be stolen and find its way to a criminal.

There are a variety of ways that allow guns to fall into the wrong hands. One of the most frequent ways that criminals get guns is through a straw purchase sale. A straw purchase is when someone who may not legally obtain a firearm, or who wants to do so namelessly, has a friend buy it on their behalf. Many straw purchases are conducted in an openly manner where two people walk into a gun store, one selects a firearm, and then the other uses his own identification for the purchase and pays for the gun. Or, several underage people walk into a store and an adult with them makes the purchases. Both of these are illegal activities.

"Criminals get guns by legally licensed but crooked at-home and commercial gun dealers. Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) are a huge source of crime guns and greatly outnumber the sale of guns stolen from an average person. Similar to bank robbers, who are interested in banks, gun traffickers are interested in FFLs because that's where the guns are. This is why FFLs are a large source of illegal guns for criminals, who ultimately wind up selling the guns on the street.

There is a considerable link to the illegal gun market from FFLs. 120,370 crime guns that were traced to purchases from the FFLs then in business, 27.7 % of these firearms were detained by law enforcement in connection with a crime within two years of the original sale. The time a gun is bought and used in a crime is a strong sign that the initial seller or purchaser may have been affiliated with unlawful activities.

Over-the-counter purchases are not the only means by which guns reach the underground market. FFLs have reported 23,775 guns lost, missing or stolen from FFLs in the last year, when a new law took effect making dealers report gun thefts within 48 hours. Unlicensed street dealers get their guns through illegal dealings with licensed dealers, straw purchases, or from gun thefts is another way for criminals to get guns. These illegal dealers turn around and sell these illegally on the street. Another way criminals gain access to guns is family and friends, either through sales, theft or as gifts."(Cook, 34-36)

While many guns are taken off the street when people are arrested and any firearms in their control are confiscated, a study shows just how easy arrestees believe they could illegally acquire another gun. Supported by the National Institute of Justice and based on interviews with those recently arrested, the study shows gun theft is common, with 13 percent of all arrestees interviewed admitting that they had stolen a gun. However a key finding is that the underground market is the most common source for these people to find a gun. In fact, more than half the arrestees say it is easy to obtain guns illegally. "Responding to a question of how they got their most recent handgun, the arrestees answered: 56% said they paid cash; 15% said it was a gift; 10% said they borrowed it; 8% said they traded for it; while 5% only said that they stole it." (Ridgeway, 76)

The ATF says that only about 8% of the nation's 124,000 retail gun dealers sell the greater part of handguns that are used in crimes. The ATF conclude that these licensed retailers are part of a block of rogue entrepreneurs looking for big profits in gun trafficking. Our highest priority should be cracking down on these dealers. What's needed is better monitoring of the behavior of legally licensed gun dealers. This means probing through FFL paperwork to see where their guns are coming from, and making sure that those guns are being sold legally. But if someone wants a gun, it's obvious the person will not have difficulty buying a gun, either legally or through the underground gun market.

Was it a Success?

So we now know that handgun ban in Washington D.C didn't stop or even slow down the violent crime rate. The crime rate actually rose for a long period of time because of the crack epidemic. Handguns were taken from citizens that had the proper training and documentation to own and operate a handgun. Leaving the city to the people that don't obey society's laws. The crime rate in Washington D.C will never be zero, but the only way that I see to deal with crime is if everyone in that city is helping prevent it.

With the ban the underground gun market didn't seem to slow at all. It just made the price of handguns go up, but where there's a will there's a way. So criminals obtained them anyway. I myself unknowingly have done a straw gun sale. But it wasn't for anyone who couldn't get one on their own or had a criminal record. But these types of gun transactions happen every day because it is not illegal to give a gun to someone as a gift. My uncle is an FFL dealer, and he does it right out of his own home. Now tell me how easy it would be to say that someone stole a gun out of his home while he was gone. Pretty easy, and as long as he reports the incident to the police he would be free and clear. FFL dealers are the people we need watch for illegal dealings because this is where the underground gun market is located.

Was the handgun ban in Washington D.C against our civil rights? That's a very large debate, and one that has been raging on for over thirty years now. We don't know for sure what our forefathers' intentions were when they wrote the Bill of Rights, but we can all make our own interpretations. That is the problem though; everyone will see it differently and only see what they want to see. I think that everyone should be allowed to own and operate any weapon that they want, but only after they pass a series of test on that weapon and then demonstrate that they are mentally stable.

With the crime rates and gun markets and civil rights protests, the ban was overturned by the Supreme Court. But the question still remains, was it successful? The answer to the question isn't black and white and people will debate the answer to years to come. I believe after all this that it was successful, not because if controlled crime, because it didn't, but because it showed the rest of the country what happens when you try and control guns anywhere in our country. Even in our nation's Capital.