Which D.C. Neighborhoods are Packing the Most Heat?

More guns registered in affluent low-crime D.C. neighborhoods than poor ones.

February 8, 2011, 5:47 PM

WASHINGTON, Feb. 9, 2011 -- Two and a half years after the Supreme Court lifted Washington, D.C.'s handgun ban, a surprising segment of the District's population is packing the most heat -- those living in more affluent, low-crime neighborhoods.

According to a Washington Post report on the registration of handguns in the district since the 2008 ruling, more than 1,400 firearms were registered with D.C. Metro Police between June 2008 and December 2010.

Police data shows that most of these registrations occurred in the western half of the District, which consists of several high-income, low-crime neighborhoods, such as Georgetown, Palisades and Chevy Chase, which combined registered nearly 300 guns for a population estimated at just over 93,000.

"Certainly there are some areas that have higher crime rates than others," Andrew Arulanandam, director of public affairs for the National Rifle Association said. "But I think there's one thing we learn from the headlines is that crime can and does happen anywhere, regardless of zip code."

While these safer and well-to-do neighborhoods have registered a high proportion of the city's firearms, more crime-ridden and low-income neighborhoods have seen fewer registrations in comparison.

East of the Anacostia River where crime rates are higher and more poverty exists compared to Northwest D.C., only 240 firearms were registered to a population estimated at just over 145,300, according to police data acquired by the Washington Post.

Wards 7 and 8, which compose this area of the city, were two sectors of the District with the most gun crimes, which include homicide, assault with a deadly weapon and robbery, in 2008.

On the other hand, Ward 3, which has the most registered guns and sits in the city's most affluent area, had the least amount of crime in the district in 2008.

In District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008, the Supreme Court struck down a handgun ban that had been in force since 1976.

"District residents could always legally register many shotguns and rifles, and could register handguns before 1976," D.C. Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier said.

"Therefore, when the Supreme Court issued the Heller decision, there were already tens of thousands of legally registered guns in the District," she said. "Since the Heller decision, fewer than 1,200 handguns and semiautomatic rifles or shotguns that could not be registered before Heller have been registered to individuals."

D.C. residents may register shotguns, rifles and semi-automatic handguns with a maximum capacity of 10 rounds, and residents applying for firearm registration must meet certain eligibility requirements before they are granted registration.

Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, lauded D.C.'s registration process as a strong prerequisite to ensure guns are used appropriately.

"Now they have strong gun rules that allow law-abiding citizens to get the gun but should make it harder for dangerous people to get guns," Helmke told ABC News.

A spokesperson for the NRA argued the strict process excludes some from registering and owning a gun due to time and economic restraints, creating greater disparities in the communities with access to guns.

"The reason there is a discrepancy is because regular people just can't afford the time and possibly even the money to pay fees and navigate the mountains of paperwork and red tape put forth by the D.C. City Council," Arulanandam said.

Registration of handguns occurred steadily after the 2008 ruling, with about 500 guns registered each year in the District, but the 1,400 registered guns in D.C. represent a very small percentage of a city whose population was nearly 600,000 people according to 2009 Census population estimates.

"More importantly, legally registered firearms in the home generally do not impact gun violence on the streets, which, unfortunately, represents the majority of gun violence in the District of Columbia," Lanier said.

However, the police data on firearm registration raises the question: How many people in the District own guns but simply do not register them?

"There may be guns out there that aren't registered, and that's not a good situation," Helmke said. "That makes it hard to analyze the situation of where guns are in the city."

Helmke points out that studies have found that a gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used against the owner or a family member than it is to be used for protection, raising the need for awareness of the risks and responsibilities that accompany gun ownership.

"Guns get stolen, get misused," Helmke said. "People get angry, and people make mistakes."

"I hope that people who are buying guns understand that there are serious risks that go with ownership and serious responsibilities that go with them."

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