Legal Battle, Gun Battles Not Over in D.C.

Law enforcement sources told ABC News that the Supreme Court ruling to overturn Washington, D.C.'s strict handgun ban will likely lead to another legal battle between the National Rifle Association and the District of Columbia in short order.

City officials announced after the decision that anyone who wishes to own a handgun and keep it in their home will have to register and be fingerprinted. Each of those regulations will almost certainly be a nonstarter with the National Rifle Association.

The organization has long been against any form of registration, limiting, for example, the amount of time the federal government can keep the records of people who have undergone background checks to purchase handguns.

NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre praised the court's ruling in a statement, calling it "a great moment in American history" and saying it "vindicates individual Americans all over this country who have always known that this is their freedom worth protecting."

"The Second Amendment as an individual right now becomes a real permanent part of American constitutional law," LaPierre said.

But a debate about what constitutes reasonable restrictions on gun purchases is set to be interesting.

Ronald Ruecker, the president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said in a statement that the court's decision supports the law enforcement goal of "reducing the unacceptable level of gun violence in this nation" and noted that the ruling "upholds and maintains the ability of federal, state and local governments to establish reasonable restrictions on the sale and possession of firearms."

He cites the prohibition of gun sales to the mentally ill or convicted felons, as well as restrictions on carrying them in schools as examples of "sensible, common sense measures designed to protect the safety of the public."

As for the violence in the nation's capital, expect more of the same -- or worse, as one law enforcement official told ABC News.

That's because the net result of the court's decision is that there will be more guns in the city. The official said that poverty, the high dropout rate, unemployment and substance abuse continue to fuel the fire in Washington.

In the District of Columbia -- the seat of democracy of the world's most powerful country, the killing is chronic, even routine. In the last decade, from January 1998 through May 2008, 2,284 people have been killed, the overwhelming majority with guns, mostly handguns.

So many, in fact, that if you stacked the caskets, each just less than 2 feet high, they would be as tall as almost eight Washington Monuments. Or almost three Empire State Buildings. Or 2½ Sears Towers.

What D.C. found after its handgun ban took effect is that there was already a sea of guns circulating in the city. As one official told me when I first began covering this issue for The Washington Post, "Guns are not biodegradable."

The Associated Press reported that after Washington's gun ban took effect Sept. 24, 1976, gun violence raged on -- there was a midday holdup at a downtown federal office, a taxi driver was shot in the head, and a senator was mugged by three young suspects, one with a handgun, near the U.S. Capitol.

Law enforcement estimates show that the nation has far more than 200 million guns in circulation. This means the black market has a pool to draw from that will be in place for decades. D.C. also found that new guns flowed into the city from Maryland, Virginia and other states where laws were less restrictive.

During the violent crack wars in the 1980s and early 1990s, the drug dealers depended on guns as the tools of the trade to resolve disputes, to police operations and to murder witnesses. Little has changed, and this problem is going to remain chronic until leaders and communities decide to truly and meaningfully address it.

One might comfortably ask why the nation allows such carnage. Is it because of who is dying in the largest numbers, percentagewise?

Thursday's court decision might be an important moment to give the country a reality check. The murder rate has declined from its high level of the crack wars, but more than 120,000 people have been murdered in the United States in the last decade.

ABC News' Theresa Cook and Randy Gyllenhaal contributed to this report.