D.C. Gun Ban: Decision Day And What Comes Next
Coming up later this morning here on the blog: A first look at the Supreme Court's ruling on the D.C gun ban. Then please join me at noon today to discuss the ruling on "Potomac Confidential" at http://www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline.
Allan Lucas discovered his passion nearly four decades ago, in the Marine Corps. Assigned to target practice at the range, he suddenly realized that everyone else had stopped shooting their M-14s. "It gets real quiet and I'm the only one shooting, and the general and the corporal are watching me," Lucas remembers. "I'm building a little circle of holes around the bull's-eye."
During a 30-plus-year career with D.C. police, the U.S. Marshals office and the D.C. corrections department, Lucas taught hundreds of officers how to handle and shoot firearms. A fourth-generation Washingtonian, he had the bad luck to practice his skill and love in a city that since 1976 has maintained the nation's strictest gun ban, which prohibits handgun ownership.
No one ever accused the government of being terribly logical, but get this: The District, throughout the three decades of its gun ban, has continued to license firearms instructors -- Lucas is one of about 60 licensees -- but has declined to let them open businesses where they could use their licenses.
Since he retired from the police force, Lucas has trained security guards and other licensed gun owners who work in the District. To do so, he must take his clients, and their tax dollars, to ranges in Chantilly or Upper Marlboro. "How can they license me to do a job that they then don't allow me to do?" Lucas asks.
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling today that could very well overthrow the District's gun ban, requiring the city to create a new regulatory scheme for guns -- one that could determine which ones could be owned, whether and where they could be sold and what kind of gun-related businesses could open up in the city.
Even before they knew the contours of the ruling, people such as Lucas stood ready and raring to go. But they will probably face months of confusion, as the District tries to figure out just what it can prohibit and what it must allow.
For the past three years, Lucas has been trying to win permission to conduct his business in the city where he lives and works. Even with the gun ban, the District has licensed not only firearms instructors but also a couple of gun dealers. Those dealers sold their wares to the more than 10,000 private security officers and law enforcement personnel who are allowed to carry weapons in the city and who must be recertified periodically as proficient at shooting.
Before the ban, there were about 40 ranges throughout the city, some run by federal and local agencies and some in private hands. The National Rifle Association had one in its old 16th Street office building, Howard University had one for its shooting team, and a few homes in upper Northwest sported their own, just for fun. Both the president's house and the vice president's had ranges.
But when Lucas went to D.C. regulators to seek permission to open an indoor range on V Street SE in Anacostia, he was trapped in a Catch-22: To open such a business, you'd need a site zoned for a range. And there is no zoning category that allows a range.
Lucas found a soundproof, bulletproof, trailer-size range that could be delivered for less than $400,000. He sent his proposal to the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. That launched an odyssey that has included 21 visits to the DCRA, five visits with D.C. Council members and other politicians, two trips to the police office that regulates gun sales and an e-mail trail involving at least a dozen city bureaucrats.
At one point, a zoning administrator told Lucas that the problem was that it had been so long since the city had licensed a gun range that it simply didn't know how to do so.
"They deny me, but they don't know why they're denying me," Lucas says. "The bottom line is that they just don't like the idea of guns, and they're looking for ways to say no."
DCRA spokesman Michael Rupert says the problem is that "this is not a zoning issue, because the range he's proposing is a mobile unit. This is a police issue."
The police official in charge of gun control did not return my calls, but Lucas's case has been kicked back to the zoning world. A note to Lucas in April from the DCRA's deputy director advised him to seek a variance from the Board of Zoning Adjustment, an expensive process that Lucas is loath to undertake, given that no one in the DCRA or the police department has given him any reason to think his application might be approved.
The need for a range will soon become far more pressing, Lucas figures. "If you're going to let people have weapons, they're going to need a place to train," he says. "The worst thing you can do is legalize guns and have no way for people to learn how to handle them safely."
In the District, where neighborhood activists mount -- and often win -- crusades against the evils of restaurants, churches and schools, the prospects for gun shops and ranges seem mighty slim. But Lucas figures, probably correctly, that big-money interests will find a way to open gun businesses somewhere.
"And," he says, with a heavy sigh, "I'll still be the little guy standing on the corner."
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