Ex-Prosecutor: Be weary of gun control laws (though well-meaning, they have unintended consequences)

In an article in the Wall Street Journal, a former Washington DC prosecutor discusses his view on how gun control in the capitol did little (if not exacerbate) the gun violence dilemma.

As a former prosecutor in Washington, D.C., who enforced firearms and ammunition cases while a severe local gun ban was still in effect, I am skeptical of the benefits that many imagine will result from additional gun-control efforts. I dislike guns, but I believe that a nationwide firearms crackdown would place an undue burden on law enforcement and endanger civil liberties while potentially increasing crime.

The gun laws in DC were extremely strict at the time.  Starting in 1976, a DC citizen could not own a gun.  They were even prevented from keeping one in their residence.  For those that already had firearms, they would not be confiscated, however, the gun was required to be disassembled or have a lock affixed to the trigger (…oh and by the way…it was illegal to remove that trigger lock without prior approval from the DC police, even in the event of a self defense during a robbery at gunpoint.). 

Though well-intentioned, the law had far-ranging negative effects and provided little by way of preventing gun violence:

The gun ban had an unintended effect: It emboldened criminals because they knew that law-abiding District residents were unarmed and powerless to defend themselves. Violent crime increased after the law was enacted, with homicides rising to 369 in 1988, from 188 in 1976 when the ban started. By 1993, annual homicides had reached 454.

The Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department also waged a war on firearms by creating a special Gun Recovery Unit in 1995. The campaign meant that officers were obliged to spend time searching otherwise law-abiding citizens. That same year, the department launched a crackdown called Operation Cease Fire to rid the District of illegal firearms. But after four months, officers had confiscated only 282 guns out of the many thousands in the city.


Civil liberties were endangered. Legislative changes empowered judges to hold gun suspects in pretrial detention without bond for up to 100 days, and efforts were made to enact curfews and seize automobiles found to contain firearms. In 1997, Police Chief Charles Ramsey disbanded the unit so that he could assign more uniformed officers to patrol the streets instead, but the police periodically tried other gun crackdowns over the next decade—with little effect.