Three years ago when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the District of Columbia’s ban on handguns in the home, there were dire predictions that there would be a sharp uptick of deadly violence in a city known for its high homicide rate and low homicide clearance rate.
Reacting in 2008 to the high court ruling that defined the nation’s Second Amendment right to keep a handgun in the home for protection, then mayor Adrian Fenty said, “Although I am disappointed in the court’s ruling and believe as I said for the past year that more handguns in the District of Columbia will only lead to more handgun violence, it is important to respect the court’s authority and to act quickly.”
Funny thing, though. Homicides in the nation’s capital are running less than a quarter of what they did 20 years ago. As of Thursday, 108 people had been killed in Washington, D.C., a level lower than the city has seen in a half-century. In fact, there were 479 homicides in D.C. in 1991 alone. Just last year, there were 132 homicides, so 2011 may have an 18 percent drop in one year.
(A sidenote to this story: The District of Columbia — also this week — got the bill for losing the Supreme Court case in which D.C. resident Dick Heller in 2003 sued the district over its handgun ban. A federal judge has ordered D.C. to pay Heller’s attorneys more than $1.1 million in attorney fees.)
It’s a stretch to argue that legalizing the possession of handguns in the home precipitated the homicide rate reduction. The reports we’ve seen don’t indicate how many of the 108 this year were shootings. City officials believe the police department’s community policing and strong leadership in historically violent neighborhoods have been instrumental in the decline. D.C. officials noted that the clearance rate of homicides is 94 percent, well above the national average. We agree that those factors went a long way toward making Washington safer.
But one other thing is equally clear — the blood bath that gun-ownership opponents predicted certainly hasn’t come about.
— The Albany Herald Editorial Board