WASHINGTON— Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the District of Columbia’s handgun ban more than 2 1/2 years ago, hundreds of residents in Washington’s safest and wealthiest areas have registered handguns — more than those in poor areas with higher crime — according to police statistics.
Records show more than 1,400 firearms have been registered with police since the 2008 ruling, according to data obtained by The Washington Post. Among those, nearly 300 are in the high-income, low-crime Georgetown, Palisades and Chevy Chase neighborhoods. In the neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River — where many areas are plagued by poverty and violence — about 240 guns have been registered.
There isn’t a single clear explanation for why wealthy residents have bought more guns than people who live in the toughest neighborhoods. Police Lt. Jon Shelton, who heads the firearms registration unit, said it could be simple economics.
“You have to figure, what are legitimate guns costing now?” Shelton said. “A basic revolver is going for $350 or $400. And you’re talking about $650, $700 for a quality 9 millimeter. So who’s got that kind of money to just throw out there for a gun?”
“Legitimate people I’m talking about now. A lot of them, these days , they’re having a hard enough time putting food on the table for their kids.”
No one knows how many legal guns are held by residents in Washington. Police said there could be thousands more that were bought in the past under different laws. About 23,000 guns were grandfathered in after the city enacted its handgun ban in 1976.
Rifle and shotgun registrations were accepted over the years of the handgun ban as well.
Of the 1,400-plus guns registered since 2008, more than 1,000 are handguns, mainly semiautomatics. The rest are rifles and shotguns.
Washington Mayor Vincent Gray said Tuesday he remains a strong proponent of gun control laws and is troubled to know more people are buying guns. He said his older brother once found a gun his father kept in their childhood apartment.
“While I was in the bathroom, I heard this loud boom,” Gray said. “He didn’t realize there was a bullet in the chamber. … It went through the furniture right where I (had been) standing.”
The mayor said he doesn’t want people to feel like they need guns at home to be safe. More guns will lead to more accidents, he said.
Alan Gura, who successfully argued to overturn the handgun ban, has another gun-rights lawsuit that he hopes will allow Washington residents to carry their weapons in public — perhaps openly. To date, handguns still must be kept at home, but Gura has support among new gun owners to change that.
Rick Du Bose, 59, who works for the U.S. Energy Department and lives in the Shepherd Park neighborhood of northwest Washington, said he bought a Ruger .357 magnum “before the ink was dry” on the law permitting handgun ownership. He said he worries more about “the crackheads” and other menacing characters on the streets than about shooting someone in his home.
“I make no apologies for advocating concealed firearms-carry for law-abiding citizens,” Du Bose told The Washington Post. Until then, he keeps his handgun at home. “Loaded,” he said. “Right there in the bedstand.”