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July 2, 2008

The Courts Are Open

Dear Courthouse Regulars:

At its Tuesday session, the city council gave the first indication of how it will respond to the Supreme Court’s affirmation in DC v. Heller that Second Amendment rights apply even in the nation’s capital. The news is mixed. Councilmember Phil Mendelson introduced a mostly straightforward bill, the “Firearms Control Amendment Act of 2008,” (this is a temporary URL; the “x” will be replaced with the bill’s number when it is assigned). The bill allows for the registration of handguns and adds a new registration requirement, that the police get a ballistics print of each gun prior to registration. There is a timing problem with this requirement that, I assume, will be worked out in the regulations: a gun owner can’t possess a gun until after it is registered, but the gun has to be ballistically printed before it can be registered. It’s not clear how that is possible. Ed Barron, below, makes the sensible point that if the government really wanted to ensure that handguns were registered, it would make registration fast, easy, and affordable. DC is moving in the opposite direction, suggesting that it doesn’t really want to have a workable, useable registration system.

There’s another difficult problem in the legislation’s restatement of the requirement that guns in homes be inoperable: “each registrant shall keep any firearm in his or her possession unloaded and either disassembled or bound by a trigger lock or similar device unless such firearm is kept at his or her place of business, or while being used for lawful recreational purposes within the District of Columbia, or for the purpose of immediate self-defense in his or her home.” In light of the Supreme Court’s decision, the most straightforward reading of this provision would be that a gun kept in a home for self-defense can be in operable condition: loaded, assembled, and unlocked. But there’s no guarantee that the authorities will read the law that way. Under the leadership of an accomplished law-twister like Attorney General nominee Peter Nickles, it is much more likely that the city’s attorneys will claim it means that a gun kept for self-defense has to be unloaded and disassembled or locked unless there is an immediate threat requiring self-defense. This flouts the Court’s decision, of course, but it is in the spirit of Nickles’ taunting of those who protested the city’s violation of the Fourth Amendment in the Trinidad blockade: “The courts are open.”

There are many other problems to be worked out. AG nominee Nickles has threatened that DC won’t allow registration of any semi-automatic handguns, meaning that only revolvers and Derringers would be legal ( But even if the city council does allow ownership of the much more common semi-automatic guns, the city’s definition of a machine gun is so expansive that it includes about half of the semi-automatic guns that are sold in the United States. In DC, a Colt .45 is a machine gun. If a magazine that holds more than twelve rounds is available anywhere for a self-loading gun, even if the gun is normally sold and used with a six- or seven-round magazine, DC calls it a machine gun. As David Kopel has written, “The DC city council would do well to rewrite its machine gun ban so that it applies only to real machine guns. If not, it will be [a] close contest to see whether the ordinance is removed first by Congress or by the courts” My bet is on the courts; the city council is unlikely to resolve this problem. It is unclear whether DC residents will be able to buy guns from out-of-state dealers; as I wrote in the last issue of themail, there are no dealers who sell to the public in DC, so prohibiting out-of-state purchases would effectively reinstate the ban. It is unclear whether DC residents will be allowed to use out-of-state shooting ranges for training and practice, and there are no ranges open to the public in DC. It is unclear how DC residents will be able to transport their guns legally to and from gun shops, repair shops, shooting ranges, and so on. The current law seems to make it illegal even to carry a gun from one room of a house to another.

Councilmember Harry Thomas introduced a “Sense of the Council” resolution at today’s hearing, (again, the URL is temporary, and the xx will be replaced with the resolution’s number when it is assigned), that indicates that at least his inclination is to make it as difficult as possible to buy, sell, and own a gun: “There must be strict standards to regulate the sale of handguns in the District of Columbia, including stringent waiting period [sic] for the purchase of hand guns, as well as the implementation of comprehensive training and education programs on the dangers of handguns through the DC Department of Parks and Recreation partnering with other agencies. There must be rigorously restrictions [sic] where gun stores can be located, a possible ban on private sales of handguns, and require [sic] gun shop operators to enter into voluntary agreements with community residents through their Advisory Neighborhood Commissions before such establishments can be issued a Certificate of Occupancy. It is the sense of the council that strict and rigorous handgun regulations must be in place to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of District of Columbia residents.” Elected officials have made it clear that they will restrict our Second Amendment rights as much as possible, but at least some of the more responsible local government officials are trying not to be so obvious about it that they invite Congressional intervention or give Second Amendment advocates a slam-dunk case for a lawsuit. We’ll see how well they do that; I don’t think they’ll be able to help themselves.

Gary Imhoff


Paying for Failure
Kerry Sylvia,

Once again the Fenty Administration is putting a spin on the truth to make the mayor look good. In Fenty’s most recent newsletter, it states that the 2008 Summer Youth Program has, “the largest number of young people registered since the 1980’s.” Eighteen thousand youths have a job with the city this summer. Sounds good huh?

Well, does everyone know the reality of DCPS and the Summer Youth Program? Every high school student attending summer school is enrolled in the Summer Youth Program and is being paid $6.25 an hour to take classes! So students who have failed during the school year because of a variety of reasons, including excessive absences and walking the halls, are being paid to take classes and earn credits that they should have earned during the school year. As an educator, I can’t tell you how this policy infuriates me. Every year I have to deal with truancy, tardiness, apathy, etc. Student accountability is a huge challenge because many students believe that doing the bare minimum is completely acceptable. There are many students who think it is okay to miss two or three days of school every week. I try to encourage my students, but at the same time remind them that there are consequences to their actions. If they fail the class, they will have to take summer school. Well, so much for the “punishment” of summer school this year.

I went into Cardozo yesterday and just shook my head. I saw several students who, despite my repeated attempts to work with them and their parents, refused to do the work required of them and therefore failed my classes. There was one student from last semester who attended the class fewer than five times for the entire semester. He was always in the hall and refused to go to class. I saw another student of mine who took my World History class two times and failed both times. She was extremely bright, but she would rather hang out with her friends in the hall than go to class. I had many conversations with her mother. The student was continually trying to blame someone else for her low grades. I keep very good records so I was able to prove to her mother through documentation that the student was lying and it was her poor attendance that resulted in F’s. Now both of these students are being paid $6.25 an hour to take the classes over again.

This policy is undermining the work of teachers and is an insult to the many students who work hard during the school year and pass their classes. In other school systems, students have to pay to go to summer school, yet in DC we are rewarding youth for failure. I guess this is what happens when you have non-educators making decisions about the school system. I’m not even going to get into how I feel as a DC taxpayer who can list many other needs that could be addressed with the money used to pay these students. Fenty needs to be called out on this and we need to make sure that this part of the program is not repeated in the future.


Bad CV Joint
J.T. Engelhardt,

A message to the Department of Motor Vehicles: at my vehicle inspection, a visual inspection revealed a bad Constant Velocity (CV) Joint, and I was failed. I can understand inspecting for emissions and brakes and lights and other safety measures, but if a CV joint goes bad, it is a progressive problem. Nobody will get hurt by a bad CV joint. My CV joint problem had been progressing slowly and could’ve gone for another year or more maybe before I had to spend $400 to replace the entire axle to fix it. But, because I was failed, I had to spend $400 now.

What public purpose does failing for a bad CV joint serve? It’s too much government. I request that you remove that part of the inspection. It’s especially burdensome on people who can’t afford a $400 fix, and bad CV joints occur on older cars.


DC, Where One Percent Rules
Qawi Robinson,

I know this is old news now, but on June 19 Mayor Fenty sent a letter to Edmund Moy of the DC Mint,, stating that that the winning design of the DC Quarter will feature Edward “Duke” Kennedy Ellington. While Duke Ellington as a native son, is a great representative for DC, my issue is the latter part of the letter that stated that 6,089 people voted over a four-week period online, by telephone, and by mail. While voter apathy is something of a phenomenon in normal elections (see the 2007 elections results of Ward 4 and Ward 7 to see what I mean), I thought something like picking a design of a DC Quarter would garner interest from more than one percent of the public. I didn’t receive any E-mails from DC.GOV encouraging me to vote for the quarter, and coverage in the newspapers is limited at best. After doing a search, I found two sites (DCist and the DC Office of the Secretary) that actually covered the online voting. The irony is that while Henry Paulson preferred Benjamin Banneker, Elenor Holmes Norton pushed for the will of the people to be represented.

That ‘‘will of the people” was represented by an online survey that gave a choice among Ellington, Banneker, and Douglass. There was no fourth choice or none of the above option, and the survey only asked for a Zip Code to verify that you are a DC resident, True to the results letter, the survey was run for exactly four weeks, May 28 through June 18, closing at 5:00 p.m. I haven’t seen that type of precision in the DC government in years. Go figure.


Just Say No to a Vote for DC in Congress
Jonathan R. Rees,

The government of the District of Columbia has recently announced that it will spend up to $500 million taxpayer dollars in lobbying efforts to get a vote in Congress. There are many in DC who feels that taxpayer dollars should not be used for lobbying Congress for a congressional vote and some feel that if a vote is granted, it won’t be you or I who vote, but the same buffoons who have ruined this city.

I have always argued that DC voters would be better off without a congressional vote but with tax exempt status like that granted to the citizens of the other five territories of the United States. A careful analysis of the issue of any benefits DC would receive if our congressional member would have a vote versus making DC residents exempt from federal taxes like residents of Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, et cetera, shows there is no comparison.

A congressional vote would have little or no impact on DC. Many studies have shown that a tax exempt status would benefit DC in several ways: 1) a major influx of new residents (300,000 in the next decade) who want the benefits of no federal taxation; 2) a major housing boom to meet the needs of new residents; 3) a major increase in DC tax revenues; 4) a major increase in businesses wanting to locate in DC to tap into our new labor pool; 5) a major increase in money in each Washingtonians’ pocket that would be spent and bolster the DC economy; and 6) more. Federal tax exempt status would bring into the DC Government coiffures close to forty times the revenue that any proposed commuter or other taxes would. Those promoting a congressional vote have a hidden agenda that will only benefit them and do not care that a congressional vote would have no benefits for each DC resident. The voters of DC should put the brakes on the Fenty administration’s spending up to five hundred million taxpayer dollars on lobbying.


Big Mistake
Ed T. Barron, edtb1@macdotcom

Efforts to make gun licensing expensive or difficult in DC are way off the mark as is requiring devices to make firing hand guns difficult or time consuming. The principal objective should be to get all guns in DC registered. The way to do that is to make licensing easy and not expensive. What should be very costly are fines and jail terms for unlicensed guns.


DC Gun Laws
Tolu Tolu,

DC restrictive gun laws obviously have nothing to do with anyone but honest, upstanding DC residents, since under the ban crimes with guns in DC by the criminals have been and continue to be the highest in the nation.

Further, if DC elected officials feel that they are above the Supreme Court they should be immediately recalled — period.


Response to the Decision
John Talbott,

I don’t see how DC can have it both ways. The District wishes to become a state, but then you suggest the possibility of not abiding by a ruling of the Supreme Court. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not a gun nut. I have joined the protests at NRA headquarters before the cowards moved to Virginia, but when the court rules, we have to bite the bullet, so to speak, and abide by the decision. That’s what makes us citizens of the nation.


Massive Resistance and Gun Law Principles
William Haskett,

I understand that Councilman Mendelson held hearings this morning on proposed legislation concerning the effects of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision on the present law, and wish only to suggest what I would consider the smallest acceptable response:

This is: to include in any draft that each and every instance in which a gun is used for what the Court declares to be “self-defense” should be subject to a particular investigation to establish that this was indeed its purpose, just as the police are subject to internal investigation (I believe) to establish the circumstances in which an official weapon was fired, and its justification as defense of self. This merely means that all holders of weapons should be held responsible for their use, just as they are responsible for other acts of personal initiative.

Where the use of the gun goes outside the fact of self-defense, it becomes subject to other sanctions, not excluding (but deliberately including) prosecution for irresponsible crime, in the normal processes of law. I commend this reasoning as a guide to the construction of a new gun law within the District of Columbia.



Young Suffagists Tea Party, July 3
Jaline Quinto,

A group of DC-area children will hold a Tea Party in Lafayette Park in front of the White House to rally for full democratic rights for DC on Thursday, July 3, from 8:45 to 10:15 a.m. On the eve of America’s celebration of independence, the Young Suffragists will exercise their first amendment rights at the White House threshold, asking politely but with increasing frustration to be heard by leadership that has prioritized bringing democracy to other countries before finishing the job at home. A ranger from the National Park Service will advise the children about their rights and also about special restrictions for demonstrations in Lafayette Park. The children will then march along the White House fence, then take a tea-and-cookie break, then continue with speeches and more marching.

In the five years since the Young Suffragists began learning about the problem, they have met with US Senators and staff, US Congressmembers and staff, and two mayors. They have visited state capitals, the Wilson Building, and several embassies to find out what democracy should look like. They have studied the women’s suffrage movement and the civil rights movement. They’ve written songs and slogans and marched many miles, exchanged postcards informing children in other states about the problem, and screamed across the continent, all in support of equal rights for the children and grown-ups of the District of Columbia.

What began in 2003 as an informal democracy summer camp for twenty children in the District has since expanded to educate hundreds of families in DC, Maryland, and California about social action and civic engagement through hands-on activities and field trips. The Young Suffragists will continue to explore democracy, inspire grown-ups, and strive for senators and a voting representative in Congress for DC by the time the oldest original member can vote, in 2012.

For more information, contact Jane Varner Malhotra at 276-4516 or E-mail at


Fun Family Films Under the Stars, July 6, 8
John A. Stokes,

The District’s Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) will hold “Fun Family Films Under The Stars,” its 2008 Family Movie Night Season, this summer. “Fun Family Films Under The Stars,” which continues until late-September, will afford residents of all ages and families of all sizes the opportunity to enjoy viewing the free, family-oriented films in DPR’s outdoor settings. As in previous years, viewers are invited to bring their own snacks, chairs, and blankets. This year, District residents will have a greater selection of viewing locations. Movies will be shown from 8:45 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.

Community members who arrive early enough for each screening will have the opportunity to place a vote between two movies that may be shown that evening. The movie that receives the most votes will be shown.

Sunday, July 6, Trinidad Recreation Center, 1310 Childress Street, NE

Tuesday, July 8, Edgewood Apartments, 601 Edgewood Street, NE


Smart Growth, July 8
Jazmine Zick,

Tuesday, July 8, 12:30-1:30 p.m., Smart Growth: Planning for America’s Future Infrastructure, Economic Development, and Environmental Challenges. Petra Todorovich, director of America, presents research on population trends and how these findings impact local and regional land use planning and investment decisions. Free. Registration not required. At the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square stop, Metro Red Line.


Environmental Leadership Program
Adam Robinson,

Applications are now open for the 2009 Mid-Atlantic regional network fellowship class. Mark your mark; become an ELP fellow. Do you want to transform the environmental or social change movement locally and globally? Are you interested in networking and collaborating with other professionals committed to environmental and social change? Are you interested in increasing the diversity of the environmental movement? Are you an emerging leader with three to ten years of experience? Would you like to increase your leadership capabilities at work? Then you must apply to become a 2009 fellow with the Environmental Leadership Program. Our yearlong fellowship program in the Mid-Atlantic will increase your leadership skills; connect you with other environmental/social change leaders; provide you with free professional development training; general collaboration opportunities with other emerging leaders; and provide you with opportunities for project funding through ELP’s activity fund.

The Mid-Atlantic regional fellowship is open to people living and/or working in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. The application deadline is October 1, 2008. Due to generous support from our funders and individual donors, the yearlong program is free to participants. For more information, go to


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