Politics & Policy

Just Stand There While I Die

The D.C. government has that right, and exercises it frequently.

The first time someone tried to mug me in Washington D.C., I ran away as he threatened to shoot me from behind.

#ad#The second time, when the exact same situation arose, I knew better. I stopped and turned around to confront the robber as soon as he threatened to shoot: “Hey, buddy!” I said confidently. “Who do you think you’re fooling? Guns are outlawed in the District of Columbia — I know you don’t really have one.”

He shot me in the face with a crossbow.

Okay, sorry, I’m just making that part up. What really happened is I ran like hell and got away, both times. Both times, the cops showed up about an hour after I dialed 911.

I have no idea whether either of my muggers actually had a gun — they each chased me from behind, and I was too busy running to ask. But a few years back, my best friend and his brother knew for sure that real guns were being trained on their heads as they were forced for several minutes to lie face-down, just blocks from the Capitol, on the red-brick sidewalk in front of their D.C. rowhouse. They both survived the robbery (two blocks from the local police precinct), but neither of them thought to ask the important questions: “Excuse me, were those guns legally registered before 1977? Are they grandfathered under the District of Columbia Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975?”

I hope that now you can understand where I am coming from when I read District of Columbia Attorney General Linda Singer’s hysterical court filing in the Heller case, which may strike down the District’s 31-year-old comprehensive ban on gun ownership.

“Whatever right the Second Amendment guarantees,” wrote the District’s chief law enforcer, “it does not require the District to stand by while its citizens die.”

What an excellent example of unintended humor — the District’s government is a national leader in standing by while its citizens die. Our homicide rate hit a 20-year low in 2005 — just 29 victims per 100,000 residents. That is slightly better than New York City’s rate (30.7) under Mayor David Dinkins in 1990, when the Big Apple suffered 2,250 homicides.

In 1991, the D.C. murder rate reached an astounding 81 per 100,000 — that was two years after Mayor Marion Barry famously told the Washington Press Club, “Except for the killings, Washington has one of the lowest crime rates in the country.”

D.C. residents are strictly forbidden from owning handguns, even in the privacy of their homes. Any long guns must be registered and kept “unloaded and disassembled.” It is not even legal, strictly speaking, to assemble and load your gun when you hear an intruder downstairs. A lower court ruled the ban unconstitutional, and the Supreme Court will decide later this year whether to take up the case.

In the debate over the gun ban, there is a strong statistical case that an armed citizenry is safer than one disarmed by unconstitutional laws, but this argument is not even necessary. There is absolutely no valid case that the District’s gun ban makes me safer as a District resident. When Singer and Mayor Adrian Fenty (D., of course) penned a September 4 Washington Post op-ed stating that “The handgun ban has saved countless lives,” were they really suggesting that without the ban there might have been 1,000 murder victims in 1991, instead of just 482? The implication is that D.C. is so totally ungovernable that only a total deprivation of constitutional rights can make it barely livable.

It is bad enough that the District government takes away constitutional rights in the name of safety, and then fails even to provide safety. But the story is actually better than that. In their response to the attorney general’s brief, Heller and the other plaintiffs in the case responded to Singer by noting the following irony:

Petitioners correctly note that the Second Amendment “does not require the District to stand by while its citizens die.” … Yet the city consistently fights to secure its right to stand by while its citizens are victimized by crime.

Yes, you read that correctly. The plaintiffs’ attorneys refer to a series of cases in which the District literally asserted its right to “stand by” while its citizens are victimized. The most dramatic is Warren v. District of Columbia, in which three women were sexually violated because of gross negligence on the part of Metropolitan police officers responding to their call. In the early morning hours of March 16, 1975, two men broke down the back door of a D.C. townhouse in Northeast and began raping a woman on the second floor. Her two roommates, hiding one floor above, called the police. According to the court’s opinion, a squad car responded, and the officer failed even to exit his car before leaving. The two women, listening to their roommate scream, called the police again. This time, an officer went so far as to knock at the door, but then left without further inspection.

Once the attackers discovered the other two women, they had their sick, twisted way with all three of them for the next 14 hours (I will not describe any of the details). The women sued the District of Columbia, which argued that “a government and its agents are under no general duty to provide public services, such as police protection, to any particular individual citizen.” The District won the case based on what is actually a long-standing legal principle.

Singer, with her silly, dramatic argumentation, has reminded us of this fact — something for which we should all be grateful.

It is our misfortune in Washington to be governed by such simpletons, but it is also a hidden blessing that their legal team shows this level of incompetence. It may be our best chance as District residents to take our safety out of their hands and put it back into our own.

– David Freddoso is an NRO staff reporter.

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