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January 20, 2013

Prohibition

Dear Washingtonians:

Iíll make my last comments, at least for awhile, on the lessons to be learned from DCís efforts at enforcing a gun ban before the Heller decision. It was not successful for a least three reasons. First, it was impossible to hermetically seal off the District of Columbia, both from surrounding states and from the past. Guns flowed in both from other states and from past decades, when large numbers of the DC public owned large numbers of guns. (Even public high schools had gun safety and target shooting classes up until the early 1960ís. Archery classes lasted a bit longer, until schools banned everything with a sharp point, including penknives and parodies.) The Prohibition era showed that a ban cannot be enforced, even when it is in place for the entire nation. Liquor was bootlegged freely from Canada and the Caribbean. Second, a ban on high-capacity magazines cannot be enforced, because, as with guns, millions of high-capacity magazines already exist, and anyone with a few metalworking tools can make a high-capacity magazine. (Well, anyone more skilled than me. Only the patience, good will, and mercy of my junior high school shop teacher allowed me to squeak by that class with a barely passing grade.) That is again similar to the Prohibition era, when anyone with a few simple ingredients could make bathtub gin or home-brewed beer. Eliminating guns, like eliminating alcohol, would require draconian measures, house-to-house searches, and confiscation. Some people see that as desirable, but a free society cannot tolerate it.

Third, bans on guns have no effect whatsoever on criminals, because people who intend to commit crimes do not hesitate to own guns illegally. A criminal who intends to rob a house or assault a person doesnít decide to commit his crimes without a gun because owning a gun is a crime. England and Australia have shown that gun bans lead to a rise in crime, because criminals find it convenient that those countries have disarmed their victims. In America, the cities with the strictest gun laws have the highest crime rates, and it is more reasonable to find that the causality is in that direction, rather than the reverse. As was pointed out in the last issue of themail, with the example of Carl Rowan, some otherwise law abiding and honest citizens, even those who speak publicly in favor of banning guns, will break the law and keep their guns, because they want to protect their homes and their families and do not trust that the police force is speedy and efficient enough to respond at times of need. But the general rule stands, that gun bans affect only the law abiding.

Washington had reluctantly began to reach toward reasonable gun laws that began to comport with the Second Amendment and to allow the public to participate in its own self-protection. I hope that the current political passions will not encourage our politicians to retreat to the failed policies of the past.

Gary Imhoff
themail@dcwatch.com

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What the Hell Is Going On?
Karl Jeremy, mayandkarl@gmail.com

Earlier this month the Office of Planning (OP) held a Twitter Town Hall in which a handful of "tweeters" participated. The previous attempt at a town hall only elicited tweets from OP staff. Whatís important is a figure OP tweeted regarding the numbers of participants at the first seven ward zoning meetings ó "over 560 residents have attended the first seven ward based ZRR community meetings." This is an astounding admission! OP is all atwitter because 560 out of a total population of 632,323 residents participated in seven of the eight ward meetings. Thatís 0.00089% (or eight one-thousandths of one percent) of the population of the city. OP is tweeting about this absurd figure because they have fulfilled their responsibility with regard to the charge given to them by the Zoning Commission.

In her lengthy presentation to the public at the beginning of the ward meetings, Harriet Tregoning waxes eloquent on the huge increase in population the District has enjoyed since 1950. Her handout indicates the Districtís population was 802,178 in 1950 and 632,323 in 2012. It appears OP is not using figures the way the rest of us do, because this indicated the District has lost 169,855 residents since 1950, or about 27 percent. The city may be experiencing some growth today, but there are still many more new residents needed to give OP something to tweet about. Actually, college students, who may not be here after they graduate, are included in these numbers.

The Zoning Commission also played a role in this citywide canard. They instructed the Office of Planning to hold at least one public meeting in each ward and to tape one of them for future viewing on Channel 16. The tape isnít on the Channel 16 web site because there were more OP staff and other ward residents than residents of Ward 8 at the meeting, where the taping took place. This citywide education effort has been either an abject failure or a deliberate attempt on the part of OP to go through the motions and attract the least number of participants. Throughout the process, the Zoning Commission has stood by as a silent enabler. Those who have kept up on the zoning rewrite know there are some fairly ambitious changes being proposed, and those changes have the potential to bring significant change to residential neighborhoods. But the figures tweeted by OP show that most residents arenít informed.

The zoning rewrite is moving forward along OPís continuum and it should be before the Zoning Commission sometime this year. By then the opportunity to educate the public will have passed, and it will be interesting to hear the praise fall from the lips of the mayor, council, and the Zoning Commission citing the great effort OP made to inform the public of the Zoning Regulation Rewrite, when in fact, little was done for the 631,763 individuals who didnít attend a ward meeting but currently reside in Washington, DC.

The council appears to be more concerned about investing its efforts in an enclosed, carpeted, temperature controlled viewing stand in front of City Hall for an afternoon of inaugural parade watching than in dedicating its efforts to educate residents about the Zoning Regulation Rewrite. As an earlier poster pointed out, the council has oversight for the Office of Planning and the mayor for appointments to the Zoning Commission, but neither body seems capable of ensuring there is credibility in the zoning rewrite or the faulty figures upon which the proposed regulations are based.

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Ward 8 Parents Tell Mayor ďEnough Is EnoughĒ
Candi Peterson, saveourcounselors@gmail.com

On a cold, rainy night (January 15) an estimated three hundred parents, students, and concerned citizens took a page from Martin Luther King, Jr.ís, social action playbook on his official birthday and took direct action by holding a vigil at the home of Mayor Vincent Gray, who chose to work late rather than meet with his neighbors. Led by Ward 8 State Board of Education representative Trayon White, the animated group of parents and children pleaded for the opportunity to keep their neighborhood schools open. "Enough is enough! Instead of giving our children less in Ward 8 we should be giving our children more." Parents say itís more than an inconvenience; itís a threat to their childrenís future.

Chanting "Save Our Schools," parents and activists were joined by a number of enthusiastic children from schools such as Malcolm X Elementary as one particularly angry mother stated, "A lot of people donít have transportation to get these kids back and forth to school. Is that what they are trying to do, they are trying to push us out. Itís not us that is suffering but our children." Kaya Henderson appears to be tone deaf to the concerns of the Districtís poorest neighborhoods, as she released a statement saying, "As you will see DCPS will reinvest funds from consolidate schools to improve programming across the District. The goal is to use funds and resources more efficiently".

Poor parents are particularly upset at the cavalier attitude that DCPS has to their desire to keep neighborhood schools open that are in walking distance of their home. In addition to the cost and the added burden of busing their children to schools outside the neighborhood, there are legitimate security concerns, as Ward 8 has one of the highest crime rates in the city. In addition to Malcolm X, two other elementary and one middle school were targets for closure in Ward 8, and three other elementary schools and another middle school in nearby Ward 7. This represents half of the twenty schools slated for closure.

The Chancellor plans to announce her school closing plan this week before a long holiday weekend. The irony of the bad timing of these schoolsí closing during the week when the District commemorates the heritage of Martin Luther King, Jr., with a parade in the street named in his honor in Far Southeast, and the nation gears up to celebrate the inauguration of the President. Across the District the spirit of direct civic action is being renewed around the issue of public education. Leading up to the vigil at the mayorís residence was an education summit on DC school closures, sponsored by Empower DC this past Saturday at Ward 5ís Guildfield Baptist church, where a packed basement of activists participated in a social justice training session. Those plans called for a similar vigil at the home of Chancellor Henderson this past Thursday, and a protest at the Department of Education to meet with Education Secretary Arnie Duncan on January 29, where activists from across the country are expected to come to the nationís capitol to protest policies that promote the privatization of public education. Public school closures has finally become the galvanizing issue that has gotten the attention of a broad cross section of parents, educators and education policy activists into an effective coalition.

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I Survived ó But Still Not Sure I Could Shoot
Star Lawrence, jkellaw@aol.com

My father was a hunter with an arsenal. One brother was in law enforcement and now runs a state gun range. My ex was special forces. We lived on Corcoran Street in 1981 when four men, three with high-quality hand guns, pulled off our screen door at 1:00 a.m., tied my ex up with electrical cords, and . . . well, you donít want to know. They were there six hours. They threatened to kill us the whole time, but didnít. The next day, a Colt .45 arrived from my father. Yes, there was a ban. We didnít care. I was glad to have it. And we soon learned that almost everyone we knew had a gun despite the ban. Even knowing what I do now, could I shoot if I had a gun in hand when the first man came strolling through my bedroom door? Not sure. Still not sure. This gun thing is so fraught, yet these dopey, glib politicians toss it around like a Nerf football. They donít know squat. Circumstances alter cases ó you have no idea how you would feel or what you would do unless you get into a bad situation. By the way, those men were never caught. The statute of limitations has long run out ó I guess the powers that be figure we wonít care after three years. But we do.

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Imhoffís Attack on New Gun Control Measures
Henry Callis, hankcallis1971@gmail.com

In Gary Imhoffís introduction to the January 17 issue of themail, he writes about the lack of effectiveness of certain gun laws, and suggests that such laws could actually have the opposite effect of what was intended by their passage. Opponents of gun control are quick to argue that gun laws are not effective, and that they should not be enacted for this reason. The problem is that these laws were never drafted in a manner, or in a context that would ever make them effective. For example, DC had a ban on guns, but DC is bordered by Virginia and saw guns trafficked in from there. The lack of effectiveness of DCís law was based on Virginiaís and other statesí overly lax gun laws. The result of this is that in 2009, more than 98 percent of the guns used in crimes in DC were imported from other states. Virginia led the way with 265, followed by Maryland with 247, North Carolina with 99, South Carolina with 46 and Georgia with 44. The pattern of gun importation to proximity as you proceed further down I95 is crystal clear. DC is a net importer of illegal guns. It only exports 2.2 guns per 100,000 inhabitants, while the average rate for other states in 14.1 guns per 100,000 inhabitants. DCís export rate is the lowest in the country. That actually suggests that DCís law, standing on its own, was the most effective. However, it also shows that a strong law like that is ineffective when surrounded by very weak laws.

The federal ban on assault weapons was largely ineffective for a different reason ó the grandfather clause. Gun owners who were in legal possession of a weapon when the new law came into effect were allowed to continue to own and use that firearm despite the fact the legislation will made that weapon illegal to buy or possess going forward. And it was the firearm that was grandfathered, not the ownerís right to have an assault weapon. Owners were free to transfer their grandfathered guns to someone else. Not surprisingly, gun sales exploded through the roof prior to the ban taking effect. This resulted in more guns in America, with no provision to reduce the numbers in circulation. Guns can remain operable and in circulation for many years, so the effect of the ban was minimal.

Finally, the alleged correlation to crime rates in DC to gun laws is laughable. As a longtime resident of this city, you know very well that the rise in crime and gun crime in particular tracked the proliferation of drugs. The years you cite match up evenly with the crack epidemic. The decline in gun crimes and murders has more to do with the socioeconomic changes in DC as a whole ó something that is also clearly evident to a longtime observer.

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Futile Gun Bans
Dan Gamber, daniel@gamber.net

Gun bans in DC are obviously futile, as long as you can drive to Virginia and buy an unlimited supply of guns and ammo with no control of any kind. National control would be another thing entirely.

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Violence
Virginia Johnson, virginiammjohnson@verizon.net

Yes, anyone who has heard, "If you outlaw guns only outlaws will have them," knows the argument Jeffrey Scott Shapiro puts forth. But it is an argument that ignores one obvious and large piece of the puzzle: that DC is effectively a tiny boat in a sea of firearms that is the commonwealth of Virginia.

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