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On rare occasions, D.C.’s political establishment and city residents speak with one voice. Last month, Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas served up the perfect unifier by introducing a bill to overturn D.C.’s ban on handguns.
In one clean shot, Hutchison hit two D.C. hot buttons: congressional meddling in District affairs and a promise of more guns in the city.
Her District of Columbia Personal Protection Act of 2005 would guarantee that Hutchison can keep the .357 Magnum she owns in her D.C. digs. Any city resident with a clean record could do the same. The legislation would overturn the 1976 city law that bars people from keeping handguns in their homes or businesses unless the weapons were registered before 1977.
Hutchison’s pistol-packing Texas swagger doesn’t sit well with the leaders of a city still trying to cast off its rep as the murder capital of the country. In a statement, Mayor Anthony A. Williams called the bill “an insult to the memory of the people who have died in this city due to gun violence—in particular the…children who have died from gun violence this year.” According to a Metropolitan Police Department spokesperson, the May 30 shooting death of a 17-year-old pushed this year’s under-18 murder toll to six.
Murdered children are a pretty tough obstacle to overcome in a political debate.
Unless you happen to be one of D.C.’s rare homegrown gun nuts.
The Rev. Douglas E. Moore, 76, is still fighting the battle he lost almost 30 years ago against the handgun ban. In 1976, Moore was an at-large councilmember. He cast the only vote against the ban critics now call the most restrictive gun law on the books.
With Hutchison’s bill as inspiration, Moore is challenging the commonly held belief that the city’s law-abiding residents hate guns. He’s making his appeals in barbershops, on street corners, and at a few public meetings. For the sake of his pet issue, Moore is even willing to set aside his distaste for Congress’ imposing its will on the District. “The Constitution is very clear: The right to bear and keep arms is guaranteed,” he says. Moore blames “liberals” for never letting the gun debate move beyond emotion.
“[The late Councilmember] David Clarke and all them liberals were talking about how many people get killed in gun accidents and talking about all the blood in the streets,” he says. “You were considered some kind of traitor to the liberal cause if you didn’t support them,” he says.
“They didn’t know shit then, and they don’t know shit today,” Moore adds.
When it comes to personal protection, says Moore, D.C. is no different from North Carolina, where he was raised. A well-aimed shotgun “saved many a black man from the likes of the Ku Klux Klan and other less-organized lynch mobs,” he says. Moore admits that the threat has changed, but he says the need for having a weapon under the pillow has not.
Moore’s gun-friendly rhetoric may be out of place in a city that gave Hutchison’s fellow Texan George W. Bush only 9 percent of the vote in the 2004 presidential election. But the pro-gun crowd is finding ways to make its case. At a recent Ward 8 Democrats meeting, D.C. Taxicab Commissioner Sandra Seegars challenged D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton’s opposition to Hutchison’s bill. Seegars says people in crime-ridden neighborhoods want guns for self-protection.
“They don’t think liberal black people can speak up in support of having guns,” she says. Seegars isn’t so timid. “I would love to have one in my house, loaded, so if someone breaks into my house, I can shoot them.”
Seegars has long embraced public policy à la Dirty Harry. She once proposed that all cabbies be allowed to carry a gun after a series of attacks on drivers.
Somehow Hutchison overlooked Moore and Seegars when she set up her press conference to unveil the gun bill. The junior senator from Texas, Republican John Cornyn, joined her. So did one of D.C.’s friendly neighbors, Republican Sen. George Allen of Virginia. Hutchison’s press spokesperson says involving local supporters of the bill was not an option because the event was held in a senators-only area of the Capitol.
Besides, focusing on the local case for
more guns could remind reporters about some bad headlines.
One of the four children killed by gunfire this year was a 9-year-old boy shot by someone firing randomly down a Columbia Heights street. Homicide by handgun was the leading cause of death for young people in the city in 2002, according to the D.C. Department of Health. The murder rate is down, but in 2004, D.C. ranked third among cities in homicides per capita behind Baltimore and Detroit, according to FBI statistics.
And Norton is hard to beat when it comes to putting loudmouthed pistol lovers on their heels. “I am particularly surprised that Sen. Hutchison would lead a heartless effort that will harm our kids and overturn local government here,” Norton said after the bill was introduced. She added that parents of children killed by guns helped beat back a 2004 effort to overturn the handgun ban with the message that “an attack on D.C.’s gun laws is an attack on our children.”
Tragic stories about mothers who lost children to handgun violence don’t faze Moore. He calls Norton’s weepy tales of woe the same tactic used by the 1976 council to pass the handgun ban. “They appeal to emotion, not logic,” Moore says.
As for Moore’s own persuasive powers, gun-control advocates need not worry. Logic hasn’t exactly directed the pastor’s political life. Moore is best known for biting a tow-truck driver in 1975. For some reason, he has never been a serious political force since.
Moore briefly hit the comeback trail in 2002. He was the only “name” candidate to collect enough valid nominating-petition signatures to be placed on the Democratic primary ballot for mayor. That was the year Williams was denied a ballot slot after election officials found his petitions to be full of forgeries. But Moore ended up with only 5 percent of the vote after Williams outpenciled the Rev. Willie Wilson in an unprecedented write-in primary.
Moore’s view on guns has won him least one fan who represents a crime-heavy neighborhood.
Absalom Jordan, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Ward 8’s Washington Highlands neighborhood, calls himself “a strong supporter of Rev. Moore.” Jordan, 64, spews the pro-gun rap with the best of them. “I see groups of young people who are just as big a threat to me as the Klan,” he says. “The police can’t stop them. There are lawless elements in this city, and they prey on people. How are we supposed to protect ourselves?”
He peddles an old argument now drilled into the public consciousness by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other right-to-bear-arms groups: People are vulnerable because the criminals have the guns and law-abiding citizens don’t.
Most District residents never bought that line. The crack-cocaine-fueled carnage of the late ’80s and early ’90s made arguments in favor of expanding gun ownership pretty hard to swallow. The killing peaked in 1991, when the Metropolitan Police Department reported 482 homicides in the city.
Jordan, who is a life member of the NRA, pines for the time when he could surround himself with the best Smith & Wesson had to offer. He was an active member of the NRA-backed D.C. Firearms Association, a gun group that faded away after the handgun ban was passed.
“I was a federal firearms dealer,” he says. “When gun control passed, I would have had to turn in some of these guns. I transferred all my guns to a dealer outside the city. I own 23 firearms. I wish I could have them in D.C.”
Jordan claims to know scores of city residents who keep a piece in the ’burbs. He says other respectable D.C. residents—even some publicly toeing the gun-control line—simply defy the ban.
The late syndicated columnist Carl Rowan proved that point back in 1988. The gun-control advocate was arrested for using an unregistered weapon after he shot a man who had climbed the backyard fence of his D.C. home and jumped into his swimming pool.
Firearms trainers in the gun havens of Maryland and Virginia say there are lots of Carl Rowans in the city.
Just ask Ricardo Royal, who runs a firearms-safety-training company called Community Association of Firearms Educators. He grew up in the District, but when the time came to choose between his boyhood home and his guns, he headed for Maryland. As a child, he learned to shoot in the District. The Pioneer Hunting Club—an NRA outfit—was all the rage in his neighborhood.
“It is ridiculous to think good, honest, upstanding D.C. citizens aren’t arming themselves,” he says, adding, “I train them all the time.” Royal declines to reveal how many D.C. residents have taken his gun-safety classes.
And D.C.’s pro-gun forces have gone beyond tough talk, says Jordan. “We’ve gone to the NRA. We are going to have to try and re-establish the D.C. Firearms Association,” Jordan says. He says it would be tough to start a new gun club now, without being able to shoot. But he thinks city residents who support Hutchison’s efforts would be more outspoken if they had official backing—and some NRA cash.
An NRA spokesperson was unable to find any record of Jordan’s request.
Moore understands that most D.C. residents won’t ever come over to his side of the gun debate. The only way to settle the argument, he insists, is to allow Hutchison to impose her will on the city. “Just let them go on and pass the damn bill and see what happens,” he says.
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Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Photo by Darrow Montgomery.