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More Wealthy D.C. Neighborhoods are Becoming Heavily Armed

More Wealthy D.C. Neighborhoods are Becoming Heavily Armed

Washington Post via YellowBrix

February 08, 2011

In the 2½ years since the U.S. Supreme Court ended the District’s handgun ban, hundreds of residents in Washington’s safest, most well-to-do neighborhoods have armed themselves, registering far more guns than people in poorer, crime-plagued areas of the city, according to D.C. police data.

Since the landmark court ruling in June 2008, records show, more than 1,400 firearms have been registered with D.C. police, most in the western half of the District. Among those guns, nearly 300 are in the high-income, low-crime Georgetown, Palisades and Chevy Chase areas of Northwest.

In all of the neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River – a broad swath of the city with more than 52,000 households, many of them in areas beset by poverty and drug-related violence – about 240 guns have been registered.

Although police declined to identify gun owners, citing privacy rules, they provided a breakdown by age, sex and location, from the start of firearms registration in July 2008 to the end of 2010. Of the 1,400-plus weapons, more than 1,000 are handguns, mainly semiautomatics, and the rest are rifles and shotguns.

In the 20016 Zip code, encompassing some of the District’s wealthiest enclaves in upper Northwest, 151 firearms have been registered. That is more than 10 percent of the citywide gun total in an area with about 14,000 households, according to U.S. Census data.

No other residential Zip code in Washington has seen as big an influx of legal guns since the ban was ruled unconstitutional.

“Mine are loaded – locked and cocked – right where I can get them,” said one gun owner in the 20016 Zip code. He is a 64-year-old K Street lobbyist who lives in the affluent Spring Valley neighborhood with his wife and teenage daughter.

“Crime is down to the lowest level, but people always feel insecure,” he said. “And when you have responsibility for your family, you have to be prepared.”

The lobbyist, an Army special forces veteran of the Vietnam and Afghan wars who retired as a two-star general, was one of five firearms registrants from different parts of the city who answered a reporter’s query on washingtonpost.com.

All agreed to be interviewed, but some, including the former general, spoke on the condition of anonymity to guard their privacy.

Except for a burglary in the late 1980s, he said, he has never been a crime victim. He said he keeps two revolvers, two semiautomatic pistols and a Benelli 12-gauge “combat assault shotgun” in his home. The loaded ones are in a quick-opening gun safe in his bedroom closet. He said he wouldn’t hesitate to use them.

In the Army, he said, he taught a course for Green Berets on how to make split-second shoot-or-don’t-shoot decisions during raids in close quarters.

“You’ve got to think about this before you’re confronted,” he said. “You have to game-plan ahead. . . . When the time comes, you have to have already been there mentally, so you’ll know what to do and when to do it.”

Which he does: “When it comes to my family’s safety, I’ve been there many times in my mind,” he said. “I’d have no qualms about killing somebody in that circumstance.”

A matter of economics

Police said there could be thousands more legal firearms in the city that were bought in past decades under different laws.

Although the demographic breakdown of gun registrants since 2008 is sparse and general, it offers a glimpse into firearms ownership in the nation’s capital 32 months after the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to own guns.

The court allowed reasonable regulations, and the District, unlike Virginia and Maryland, still bars carrying guns in public.

From Deanwood to Cleveland Park, from Takoma to Congress Heights, more than 1,200 men and about 170 women, most of them ages 30 to 60, have availed themselves of the right to pack heat in their homes. Some keep multiple firearms.

In the District’s poorest, most crime-scarred precinct, Ward 8 in far Southeast, residents have registered about 140 guns. In Ward 3 in upper Northwest, where the violent-crime rate is nearly 10 times lower and the average family income is more than five times higher, about twice as many firearms have been registered.

It’s open to conjecture why residents in some of the District’s toughest neighborhoods have registered fewer guns than people in other parts of the city. D.C. police Lt. Jon Shelton, head of the firearms registration unit, said it could be simple economics.

“You have to figure, what are legitimate guns costing now?” he 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.”

More than 40 gun registrants are in their 80s, the records show. The oldest: a 90-year-old man in upper Northwest with a semiautomatic. Nearly 300 firearms have been registered by people older than 60, most of them men.

“Let me put it to you this way: I feel a heck of a lot safer now than I used to,” said a 69-year-old retired computer specialist living alone in the Chillum area of Northeast. In his Zip code, 20011, there were 126 guns registered, including his three semiautomatics, which he keeps handy on both floors of his house.

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