It's a few steps shy of proclaiming, "Gun Ban an Abject Failure at Curbing Crime," but today's Washington Post Metro did trumpet on the front of its November 13 Metro section that the 31-year old D.C. handgun ban has not proven to be a crime deterrent. With his somewhat subdued headline, "Crime Data Underscore Limits of D.C. Gun Ban's Effectiveness," staff writer Paul Duggan unearthed the political calculus for the 1976 gun ban, as well as the Post's role as chief journalistic cheerleader for the law the federal D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals found unconstitutional earlier this year.
In making by far their boldest public policy decision, the District's first elected officials wanted other jurisdictions, especially neighboring states, to follow the lead of the nation's capital by enacting similar gun restrictions, cutting the flow of firearms into the city from surrounding areas. "We were trying to send out a message," recalled Sterling Tucker (D), the council chairman at the time. Nadine Winters (D), also a council member then, said, "My expectation was that this being Washington, it would kind of spread to other places, because these guns, there were so many of them coming from Virginia and Maryland."
Duggan quotes other politicians who eagerly supported, and continue to support the ban, noting that at the time even they admitted the ban would do nothing to make citizens safer (emphasis mine):
"The bill should not be looked at as a panacea to solve all gun-related crime problems that we have in the city," warned then-council member John A. Wilson (D), after the council passed the measure, 12 to 1, and the mayor signed it into law in July 1976. "But maybe it will save some senseless accident at somebody's home," Wilson said.Marion Barry (D), a council member then as now and a supporter of the bill, put it bluntly at the time: "What we are doing today will not take one gun out of the hands of one criminal."
But it wasn't just the overwhelmingly liberal Democratic city council that cheered for the liberty-limiting gun ban. Duggan notes that the Post editorial page cheered the ban and urged a more comprehensive national one be instituted by Congress:
There was no more ardent supporter of the ban in 1976 than The Washington Post editorial page, which asserted: "One shortcoming of local laws . . . is that they can't work well when guns are moving freely in immediate adjacent areas." That is why, the editorial said, a federal handgun law was needed.
Duggan's article has some shortcomings, among them: no quotes from gun rights groups or scholars like John Lott, the economist who found a correlation between states with minimal gun control and low crime. Even a quote by liberal constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe, who himself now admits the 2nd Amendment guarantees the individual's right to keep and bear arms, would have provided a good balance to the pro-ban sound bites from yesteryear. That said, it's not every day you see in the pages of a major liberal newspaper the admission that the very same paper has been a cheerleader for a gun control policy that's only disarmed law-abiding citizens while leaving the city more dangerous in its wake.