DC Council approves two emergency bills strengthening DC’s gun laws from Councilmember Charles Allen

The DC Council approved two emergency bills introduced by Councilmember Charles Allen focused on strengthening DC’s gun laws and reducing gun violence.

As a reminder, an emergency law goes into effect immediately following the Mayor’s signature and is effective for only 90 days. It cannot have a financial cost.

First, the Ghost Guns Prohibition Emergency Amendment Act of 2020, which Councilmember Allen is moving on behalf of Mayor Muriel Bowser, clarifies District law to prohibit the manufacture, sale, and possession of untraceable or undetectable firearms, also known as “ghost guns”.

“Ghost guns” is a term that may be used to refer generally to guns that are undetectable, untraceable, or both. It includes firearms built to avoid detection, missing serial numbers, able to be manufactured using 3-D printers and other cutting-edge technology, or able to be manufactured or assembled through commercially available kits and without the expenditure of substantial time and effort.

“These guns attempt to circumvent the hard fought and carefully considered gun safety laws of the District of Columbia,” said Councilmember Allen. “We know they are used in violent crimes. They’re not for hobbyists or collectors. They’re being used for one purpose: to inflict harm in our communities.”

In just one year, between 2018 and 2019, the District saw a 364 percent increase in the recovery of ghost guns. In 2017, the Metropolitan Police Department recovered only three ghost guns in the District; in 2018, 25 ghost guns were recovered; and in 2019, 116 ghost guns were recovered. In just the first six weeks of this year, 28 ghost guns have already been recovered. The types of ghost guns recovered in the District include handguns and rifles, including assault weapons such as AR-15s.

A second emergency bill, the Extreme Risk Protection Order Implementation Working Group Emergency Amendment Act of 2020, would establish a working group of government and community organizations to implement DC’s “red flag” law.

On December 18, 2018, the Council created the District’s “red flag” law. Our “red flag” law allows concerned family and household members, mental health professionals, and law enforcement officials to file “extreme risk protection orders” with the Superior Court to have firearms and ammunition removed from people who pose a significant danger to themselves or others.

“Red flag laws – if implemented well – prevent self-harm and harm to others, including in suicide, domestic violence, and – importantly – community violence situations,” said Councilmember Allen. “They’re not only for legally possessed guns; we have a relatively small number of legally possessed guns in the District – most are illegally possessed. Our law also has a very important provision: if your unregistered gun is surrendered or taken through an extreme risk protection order, you can’t be arrested or prosecuted for having possessed or carried that gun or ammunition. You don’t get immunity, however, if the gun was used in a prior crime.”

Between October 1, 2018 and August 7, 2019, Maryland’s courts received approximately 788 requests for extreme risk protection orders. Between March and July 2019, Florida’s red flag law was used nearly 2,400 times. Many jurisdictions have successfully coordinated government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and community advocates to drive effective implementation and save lives, but the District lags significantly behind. Since the District’s red flag law took effect, only two petitions have been granted.

In 2019, there were 129 homicides and 709 assaults with a dangerous weapon in the District that involved a firearm. As of today, there have been 25 homicides and 116 assaults with a dangerous weapon, year-to-date, that involved a firearm. This emergency legislation recognizes that the gun violence epidemic is unacceptable and preventable, and it will formally coordinate the efforts of District agencies, federal partners, firearms safety experts, and community members to implement the District’s red flag law.

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