DC Ban on Semiauto Handguns Stands

Even though the U.S. Supreme Court found that Washington, DC's more than 30-year-old handgun ban violated the Second Amendment, that doesn't mean our nation's capital will soon turn into the handgun Valhalla envisioned by pro-gun advocates.

Is it bad for DC residents? Yes. Is it as bad as it could be? No. The reason for this is that the Court's ruling does not affect the District's ban on "machine guns," which under DC law includes any gun "which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily converted or restored to shoot semiautomatically, more than 12 shots without manual reloading." This definition includes virtually all semiautomatic handguns. As a result, the District's ban can remain in force for those types of handguns. In essence, the Court's ruling for the most part will only affect revolvers and derringers.

Semiautomatic guns are the weapon of choice in mass shootings -- including Virginia Tech -- and police killings. Firing one shot per trigger pull, they have greater ammunition capacity and can be quickly and easily reloaded. Semiautomatic handguns, also known as pistols, are the most common type of handgun manufactured in America, representing 73 percent of the 1,403,329 handguns manufactured in the United States in 2006 (the last year for which figures are available). In contrast, revolvers hold only five to six ammunition rounds, fire more slowly, take time to reload, and represent only 27 percent of the handguns manufactured in 2006.

Yesterday's decision flips legal logic and common sense on its head. As measured in gun death and injury, handguns are our nation's most lethal category of firearm: accounting for the vast majority of the 30,000 Americans who die from guns each year. They are also our nation's leading murder and suicide tool. Yet the majority opinion offers the greatest offender the strongest legal protection. It's analogous to the Court carving out special constitutional protection for child pornography in a First Amendment case.

In its ruling, the Court brushed away our nation's history of mass shootings, assassinations, and unparalleled gun violence. It has instead accepted an abstract academic argument with dangerous real-world results for residents of the District of Columbia.

It's now up to the District of Columbia's leadership to make sure that, by limiting the types of handguns that can be registered in DC, that they do their best to lessen the inevitable damage that will come from this ruling.

And to fight off the next legal attack from the gun lobby when they do so.