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D.C. residents start applying for gun permits

The plaintiff in the Supreme Court case that overturned Washington's 32-year-old handgun ban was the first to arrive Thursday as the city began registering firearms.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The plaintiff in the Supreme Court case that overturned Washington's 32-year-old handgun ban was the first to arrive Thursday as the city began registering firearms.

But security guard Dick Heller was turned away from police headquarters because he didn't bring his weapon as required.

Thursday marked the first day that District of Columbia residents could begin registering or applying for handguns since the Supreme Court struck down one of the strictest gun laws in the nation. Heller complained, however, that city officials were still making it difficult to register his firearm and exercise his constitutional right to bear arms.

"I've been rejected again," said Heller, who sued the city after his application for a handgun license was rejected in 2003.

Handguns only for self-defense
The Supreme Court ruled June 26 that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to have guns for self-defense. Since then, city officials have moved quickly to abide by the decision. Under emergency legislation passed this week by the D.C. Council, residents may keep handguns only for self defense — at home unloaded and disassembled, or equipped with trigger locks.

A weapon can be readied for use only if there's the "reasonably perceived threat of immediate harm." The law also bans weapons broadly defined as machine guns that can fire 12 rounds or more, which rules out most semiautomatic handguns.

Dane von Breichenruchardt, a gun advocate and adviser to Heller, said further legal challenges are likely because city officials continue to insist on such stringent regulations.

"They think they're above the Supreme Court," he said, echoing other gun rights advocates.

Von Breichenruchardt, the president of the Bill of Rights Foundation, said that as long as the city continues to outlaw most semiautomatic firearms, Heller likely will be prohibited from registering his weapon of choice — a .45-caliber Colt pistol. Heller said he'd return Friday to register a different weapon.

Six months of amnesty
Residents who kept handguns in their home illegally while the ban was in place are being given six months of amnesty to legally register their weapons. They, and residents who stored handguns outside the city during the ban, must bring their weapons to police headquarters so officers can make sure the firearms meet city regulations, officials said.

Gun owners can only register one weapon in the first 90 days.

Besides Heller, about 60 residents showed up at police headquarters Thursday — mostly to pick up applications for firearms.

They were directed to a counter just inside the building's entrance, where three officers handed out packets that included a questionnaire asking whether the applicant had been convicted of a crime or committed to a mental hospital.

Anthony Hamilton, who lives in southeast Washington, was among those who showed up. He said he wanted a gun to keep his wife and 12-year-old daughter safe. He said he was already considering his options, and hoped to spend about $300 on a handgun.

"I'm not going to pass up the opportunity to protect my family," he said.

Hamilton, who has lived in the city all of his 35 years, said he has not had any problems with violence, but added: "You never know when someone is going to kick the door in."

Jordan Schwartz, a 23-year-old law student, said he felt safe but wanted to register a gun to exercise his Second Amendment rights.

"It's an extremely momentous day," Schwartz said.