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Washington, D.C. Set to Lower Penalties for Carrying Without a Permit, Felon in Possession

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Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

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This is apparently what happens when rabidly anti-gun blue city governments come full circle. Washington, D.C., if you’ll remember, used to ban handgun ownership, even within the owner’s home. Lawfully owned long guns were required to be stored unloaded and either disassembled or “bound by a trigger lock.”

That, after all, is how we got the Heller decision.

My, how things have changed. We now live in a time of “equity,” zero bail, non-prosecuted offenses, and decarceration. Prosecuting law-breakers is currently seen as a white supremacist act that’s steeped in systemic racism.

That’s what’s prompted the District of Columbia city council to decide, in all of its fashionably “progressive” wisdom, to reduce the penalties for a range of violent crimes in addition to carrying a gun without a permit or being a felon in possession of a firearm.

A faction of the Council actually wanted to increase the penalties for the offenses. But the majority on the Council who are farther to the left weren’t buying it. From the Washington Post . . .

The debate Tuesday focused on an amendment proposed by council member Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2) that would have raised the maximum sentences for carrying a dangerous weapon and unauthorized possession of a firearm. Pinto’s amendment would have treated the violations as Class 8 felonies, which carry a maximum possible sentence of four years in prison; the legislation classifies those crimes as Class 9 felonies, which carry a maximum possible sentence of two years in prison.

Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) said the council should send a strong message, given the state of crime in the city. “Everybody knows we are awash in guns and gun violence. We have residents being shot almost every day, including children,” she said. “We have shootouts in the street. And this is not a time, I don’t think, to lessen penalties for gun possession.”

But the amendment did not find broad support. Three members — Pinto, Cheh and Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) — voted for it. Ten voted against. Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who chairs the council’s public safety committee, said that the amendment was not based on any data or evidence that it would improve safety and that only a tiny percentage of defendants sentenced for carrying a dangerous weapon or unauthorized possession of a firearm get more than two years.

Besides the fact that few people actually got the maximum penalty, there’s the whole equity aspect of the change.

“For supporters of this amendment, I hear you saying we need to raise penalties to meet this moment, to send a message. But I ask you to show your work,” Allen said. “At some point, this council needs to reckon with what it means to have one of the highest incarceration rates per capita in the free world and yet endure this kind of violence.”

Jinwoo Charles Park, executive director of the D.C. Criminal Code Reform Commission, said in a letter to the council Monday that the bill should not be amended to increase the penalty classifications. Doing so, he said, would exacerbate racial disparities in incarceration.

“Increases in the average sentence for these offenses would have a disproportionate effect on African American defendants,” Park said. “Although it is likely that only a small percentage of defendants would be sentenced to the maximum penalties, changing the penalty classifications could result in an increase in the average sentence for these offenses.”

So, along with reducing the penalties for offenses like burglaries, carjackings and robberies, the City Council’s unanimously-passed criminal code revision also reduces the penalties for carrying without a permit and felon in possession.

Think of it as constitutional carry light.

The changes still require the signature of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser to become law, and she isn’t a fan of the reductions to the firearms-related penalties.

Bowser said in a letter to Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) that she opposed the proposal to weaken what she termed “already lenient sentencing for gun possession” by reducing the current penalties for carrying a pistol without a license and being a felon in possession of a gun.

If the Mayor signs the code revision into law — which she’s expected to do — D.C. will have made carrying a gun without a permit a misdemeanor. That’s a relatively short hop, skip and a jump from the district joining 25 states in removing all permitting requirements and making the nation’s capital a constitutional carry zone.

Now that is progress we can believe in.

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