Washington, D.C., will become a safer place to live and work thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling Thursday against the city’s absolute ban on handguns. The Court ruled that the Second Amendment’s guarantee of the right to bear arms is an individual right, not just one that permits states to maintain militias, striking down one of the nation’s toughest anti-gun laws. As someone who lived in the District at the time the city imposed its ban 32 years ago, I say it’s about time.
I bought my first gun in 1974 after my husband was mugged in broad daylight just blocks from the White House. My husband was picking up our 6-year-old son from school when a man approached him and demanded money. When my husband refused, the man picked up a two-by-four and hit him on the back of the head, knocking him to the ground.
The event traumatized all of us and sent me to a local gun shop to purchase a handgun. I properly registered the .357 Magnum, according to the District law in effect at the time, learned how to shoot it, and kept it safely in my home for the next two years.
But in 1976, the city changed its law, grandfathering in people like me who already owned guns, provided they bring their guns to a government building downtown to re-register them. By that time, I was pregnant with my second child. As the deadline approached, I tried a couple of times to stand in line to re-register the gun but gave up as the wait stretched into hours. On the final day, I went downtown again, gun in tow, only to see a line extending for blocks. As pregnant as I was, there was no way I could stand in line for several hours. So, I returned home, knowing my gun would be illegal if I kept it in my home.
For the next several years, I stored my gun in Virginia, where we owned a small cabin, to comply with the law. Ironically, there was no crime in the area where my cabin was located, so I had no need of the gun there. But I had several brushes with crime in D.C.
Soon after the gun ban went into effect, an intruder hid in my house one day in what was one of the most terrifying incidents in my life. I happened to see the man lurking near my staircase as I headed into the kitchen. I managed not to scream but continued walking away and quietly phoned the police. I confronted the intruder once I knew the cops were on the way. He acted as if I had somehow wronged him by calling the police but didn’t stick around to explain to the authorities what he was doing in my house.
Around the same time, a serial rapist started attacking women in our neighborhood, including two women who lived within a block of my house. And even though I still owned a gun, I couldn’t legally keep it nearby to protect myself. Police eventually caught the rapist, a teenager armed with a knife, but all of us in the neighborhood lived in fear for the weeks he was preying on victims.
Then, two years ago, I was again living in D.C. on Capitol Hill when I heard an awful racket through the walls of my townhouse. It sounded as if someone was being thrown down the stairs, with men shouting and doors slamming. When my husband rushed outside to see what was happening, he found our young neighbor visibly shaken. He had come home to find a man in his upstairs hallway, obviously burglarizing the house. Again, I wished I had my gun in D.C., but bringing it into the city would have made me a criminal.
These incidents were all near misses. Many other D.C. residents haven’t been as lucky. They fall victim to violent crimes in their homes yet can’t do anything to defend themselves.
The D.C. gun ban never made a dent in the city’s gun crime; it still ranks among the most dangerous places in America. At least now, the Supreme Court has acknowledged the constitutional right of law-abiding citizens to protect their own lives when the police can’t.