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Gun owners must re-register firearms in ‘the other Washington’

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Gun owners in “the other Washington” are required to re-register their guns with the Metropolitan Police Department beginning Jan. 1, according to NBC News4 yesterday, and coincidentally today, the same news agency is reporting that the murder rate in the nation’s capital has climbed this year.

This begs the question: Does the city think it more important to re-register law-abiding gun owners or concentrate on stopping murderers?

The city says there may be up to 40,000 citizens who need to re-register guns, which translates to a pretty healthy revenue injection in the half-million dollar range. It’s probably a safe gamble that few, if any of the legally-owned guns registered since 1976 were involved in any of the 103 homicides so far reported for 2013.

By contrast, in Seattle, where there is no gun registration but a similar overall population, there have been fewer than 25 criminal homicides so far this year, according to Seattle Police.

Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier told reporters that the District's re-registration process will be simple, and in the future it may be done on line or by mail. This time, however, registered gun owners will have to appear in person.

But why re-register guns at all? According to a contact in the gun registration division, the department wants to see how many guns are in the district, if any have been lost, stolen or otherwise disposed of, and this way the police will know who has guns legally in the District. Perhaps some of those older registrants have died, too. Also, there’s that $13 per gun fee, which – if multiplied 40,000 times – could bring in $520,000.

The other part of this is that if a person doesn’t re-register their gun, they face a fine of up to $1,000 and up to a year in jail. Gun owners have 90 days to re-register, and a grace period of another 90 days. After that, they will wind up in trouble.

Here in the Evergreen State, gun registration has been a politically toxic idea, despite the fact that the state department of licensing maintains a “pistol registry” that consists of all handguns purchased at retail from licensed dealers. Over the weekend at the Puyallup gun show sponsored by the Washington Arms Collectors, at least three people inquired about that registry with this column.

Gun prohibitionists would like to extend that registry to rifles and shotguns. Earlier this year, Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, tried to work a compromise on a background check measure that would have abolished the pistol registry, but anti-gunners resisted and the compromise measure died in committee.

Gun registration raises concerns among firearms owners because they are concerned about being taxed or having their guns seized. Bluntly, gun rights activists will say it is none of the government’s business if they have a gun, how many guns they have, or how those guns are stored.

This is one reason Gottlieb and others included a provision in Initiative 591 that prohibits government gun confiscation without due process. Another reason is what happened after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, when firearms were unconstitutionally seized by police without due process or even probable cause.

Chief Lanier made it sound so routine and “not a big deal,” but in most parts of the United States, the notion of gun registration is a very big deal. It is the sort of thing that could cost a politician his or her job, and as Dick Heller, the man who successfully overturned the District’s handgun ban in 2008 as a violation of the Second Amendment noted to the NBC reporter, “You don’t see criminals registering guns.”

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