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July 27, 2014

The Dangers of the Bill of Rights

Dear Washingtonians:

On Saturday, Judge Frederick J. Scullin, Jr., of the District of Columbia District Court ruled against DC’s current gun laws. For Reuters’ brief story on his decision, see The key paragraph of the decision reads: “In light of Heller, McDonald, and their progeny, there is no longer any basis on which this court can conclude that the District of Columbia’s total ban on the public carrying of ready-to-use handguns outside the home is constitutional under any level of scrutiny. Therefore, the court finds that the District of Columbia’s complete ban on the carrying of handguns in public is unconstitutional.” See also Emily Miller’s story on the decision,

Alan Gura, the lawyer who won the Heller case and who brought and won this case, Palmer v. DC, commented, “Obviously, the carrying of handguns for self-defense can be regulated. Exactly how is a topic of severe and serious debate, and courts should enforce constitutional limitations on such regulation should the government opt to regulate. But totally banning a right literally spelled out in the Bill of Rights isn’t going to fly. My deepest thanks to the Second Amendment Foundation for making this victory possible and to my clients for hanging in there. Congratulations Americans, your capital is not a constitution-free zone,”

DC’s political officials, however, don’t believe that people in DC can be trusted with the full Constitutional rights that other Americans enjoy, and have announced their continuing determination to deny Second Amendment rights to citizens of the District. Mayor Gray and Attorney General Nathan have announced that they are going to appeal the decision (see Julie Zauzmer, Washington Post,, and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, mayor-in-waiting Councilmember Muriel Bowser, and Councilmember Tommy Wells, among others, have voiced their support for protecting Washingtonians from the dangers of the Bill of Rights.

Gary Imhoff


Future Slums
David Lipscomb,

[Re Future Slums, themail, July 23] Amen! I can’t say I often agree with you, but this is spot on. This [microapartments] is being floated as an innovative affordable housing option that I expect will be mostly exploited by the poor(er) but savvy end of the gentry spectrum (which I don’t knock because I think recent grads, graduate students, and entry level white collar workers should be able to have a nice place to live) but will eventually be spun as an answer to the affordable housing crisis for Section 8 residents. We know what happens when you concentrate poor folks in one area and turn a blind eye to upkeep, as we’ve seen it happen repeatedly with previous housing projects. The idea isn’t bad, and truthfully, I think it’s a bit cool, but I don’t have faith in the city to ensure the plan will be executed properly. And if DC finds itself unexpectedly on the decline, we’ll have a lot of issues on our hands. Though the federal government is a nice security blanket that makes us relatively less impacted by recession and similar issues, we’re not immune to the kind of flight that built the suburbs. For the upwardly mobile, moving back and forth across state lines is no big deal. Maybe they like DC now, then they’ll like Shirlington next week, then maybe Rockville or Bethesda if they get a little money. Maybe they’ll come back because they miss living in a real city, maybe they won’t because they’re close enough and get a little more peace and quiet. Who knows?


Micro Apartments
R. Weiss,

Micro apartments are found, and have coexisted with larger units, in NYC neighborhoods of Union Square/Gramercy, Madison Park, Hell’s Kitchen, Chelsea, Flat Iron, etc. No slums there! You don’t know NYC, for sure.


Biking, Low Income Residents, and Commuting
Richard Layman,

There is nothing new in the research findings about “low income commuters and cycling” (themail, July 16). Like any system of mobility, people have to be trained to use it. We take that training for granted as it relates to automobility. Lower income residents typically need more assistance, not less, in order to adopt new behaviors and technologies, especially when the use of such equipment involves spending money. Another way to think about this is in terms of innovation diffusion theory as outlined by Everett Rogers. Bicycling uptake is still considered to be in the early adopter phase as it relates to widespread use. Economic laggards typically are not at the forefront of technological and social change.

Using ad hoc methods, it is almost impossible to counter decades of promotion of automobile primacy as the primary way to get around in the US for work and non-work trips. For a variety of reasons, low income residents and African-Americans more generally lag “back to the city” trends, which include cycling and sustainable transportation promotion (e.g., look at resident opposition to streetcars as expressed by Anacostia residents as another example). In our region, this point is demonstrated by continued African-American outmigration from Washington, DC, to Prince Georges County primarily and Charles County secondarily.

In conversations with various people on this issue, trying to figure out why this is, I have come to the conclusion that many later generation “Washingtonians” see “the city” as “old and tired” and the suburbs as the culmination of the American Dream, even though a variety of counter-trends and perceptions exist. This is particularly pronounced in my area of Ward 4, historically the center of the city’s black middle class, where younger residents see our neighborhood as where their relatives lived and as old and undesirable. Meanwhile, virtually every house turnover brings new white or Hispanic or mixed-race couples to the neighborhood, which is changing the demographics of the ward in significant ways.

Not having read the report, just the article, it isn’t clear to me that either or both a substantive literature review or a best practice review was conducted. A high quality research study would have: 1) addressed significant connection and topographical issues that make biking from east of the river to the core of the city particularly difficult, and 2) considered best practice initiatives such as in Boston or Portland, Oregon. (The Community Cycling Center of Portland’s low income commuter assistance program provides bicycles to low income commuters or residents, and provides the training and assistance necessary to adopt new behaviors.) The UK is also a great source for studies on promoting cycling uptake in diverse communities,

Note that there are many such best practice examples, and to my knowledge no adoption and implementation of any of the five to ten best practices that come to mind has been initiated East of the river in DC, other than Black Women Bike, a program created by Ward 7 resident Veronica Davis. But with regard to cycling specifically, while WABA has been doing trainings, and Veronica Davis created the Black Women Bike group, there isn’t a bicycle shop east of the river in DC. There aren’t any nonprofit initiatives fostering cycling, such as bike co-ops, based there to my knowledge, even though programs located elsewhere in the city do operate there. The DPR recreation centers aren’t utilized systemically as a way to foster bicycle usage.

And there are many tough hills — e.g., try riding to the Anacostia Community Museum some time, or up Stanton Road to Congress Heights, or up Martin Luther King Avenue to St. Elizabeths, not to mention limited ways to get across the Anacostia River — although the new 11th Street “local” bridge is a far better means of doing so compared to what existed previously.


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