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As the District is in the middle of a homicide surge—the homicide rate is up 43 percent from this time last year—the D.C. Council pushed forward a sweeping bill that could have a major impact on gun violence in the city.
The Firearms Safety Omnibus Amendment Act, which unanimously passed a first vote during yesterday’s jam-packed legislative meeting, would strengthen the District’s gun laws by banning bump stocks—an attachment that allows semi-automatic weapons to fire at the speed of automatic weapons—and increasing the penalty for those caught with high-capacity magazine clips, from a $2,500 fine and/or up to a year of jail time, to three years of imprisonment.
But the most notable component of the bill is a “red flag” amendment that allows law enforcement officers to confiscate firearms and ammunition, via a court order, from people who are deemed a danger to themselves or others.
Red flag laws have steadily gained bipartisan support since the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in February. With yesterday’s vote, D.C. is poised to join 13 states that have passed similar laws aimed at stopping shootings before they happen.
Under D.C.’s red flag amendment, first introduced by Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau in July 2017, police or family members can petition the D.C. Superior Court to temporarily seize a gun owner’s firearm through an “extreme risk protection order” if that person exhibits violent behavior. Once the ERPO has been granted, a law enforcement official can confiscate that person’s firearm for up to a year.
Though the red flag amendment proposed in the Council’s omnibus gun safety bill is modeled after the similar laws in other states—most similarly to California’s—D.C.’s amendment is unique in that it includes an immunity clause that prevents law enforcement and prosecutors from pursuing criminal charges for gun possession. It’s a move that Nadeau says will make sure that people who might want to report someone feel safe in doing so.
“Gun violence is an epidemic in our country and is all too common in the District,” she said in a statement. “This bill will help save lives by getting guns out of the hands of people who are a risk.”
In addition to banning bump stocks and establishing red flag laws, the Firearms Safety Omnibus Amendment Act would also make it harder for District residents who have been committed to a mental hospital to buy a gun. According to the legislation, a “rigorous judicial review process” would be required for D.C. residents who have been voluntarily or involuntarily committed within the past five years who want to register a firearm.
That process would require firearm applicants to submit a written petition explaining why they were disqualified from possessing a firearm if they were committed, and facts supporting why they should no longer be disqualified from registering a firearm. The bill also requires a detailed letter of support from a licensed doctor, psychiatrist, or psychologist.
Kris Brown, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, told City Paper in a statement that her organization worked closely with Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, who chairs the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety, and other councilmembers on developing the sweeping gun safety bill.
“Brady testified in March of this year in support of an extreme risk protection bill to enable law enforcement to temporarily secure firearms from people in crisis who become a danger to themselves or others,” Brown said. “Life-saving legislation like this, as well as the provisions on bump stocks and high capacity magazines, will continue to provide law enforcement, family members, mental health professionals, and other residents of the District with powerful tools to better protect their communities and the public’s safety against gun violence while also ensuring individual rights, notification, and due process through the courts.”