Jaffe Report: DC Gun Laws Must Be Stiffer

Latest: Welch pleaded guilty to a federal charge of transporting a firearm and a D.C. charge of assault with a dangerous weapon. Because he pleaded guilty to a felony, he loses his right to possess a firearm in the United States. See full coverage here.

Harry Jaffe, a longtime chronicler of the people and politics of Washington, D.C., writes a column for NBC Washington's First Read DMV blog.

Let’s be generous with Edgar Maddison Welch, the misguided Pizzagate shooter, and try to see him through his parents’ eyes.

“I want people to know he’s not the monster he’s portrayed to be,” his mother Terri told the Washington Post last December, a few weeks after her son shot up Comet Ping Pong, a pizza restaurant on Connecticut Avenue in northwest D.C.

Welch is scheduled to appear in federal court Friday to finalize a plea deal.

To his family, the 28-year-old is a loving, responsible father to his two young girls. He’s the uncle who’d go surfing, fishing and crabbing with the kids. He’d volunteered with his church to build houses in Haiti after an earthquake.

But to the folks who showed up for a pizza pie at Comet Ping Pong the first Sunday last December, he’s the guy who stalked in with an assault rifle, pointed it at a server and fired some rounds in the floor.

His parents live down a long driveway from Welch in the North Carolina town of Salisbury. They had no clue their boy had been seduced by raging lunatics on social media who had concocted a conspiracy that had Hillary Clinton running a sex trafficking ring from the basement of Comet Ping Pong. They were surprised to learn their kid had armed himself and driven north with the intention of shooting his way into Comet and liberating the children.

Giving Welch every benefit, I come away with one essential conclusion: This adoring dad and playful uncle must never, ever be permitted to possess a firearm again – ever.

Welch faces up to 35 years for various firearm offenses, including assault with a dangerous weapon. If Welch pleads guilty to a felony, by federal law he will lose his right to possess a firearm, nationwide, as it should be.

But if prosecutors allow him to bargain down to a misdemeanor, he could serve time and pay a fine, yet still maintain the right to bear arms.

That’s not likely, but it’s possible. That possibility should be taken off the books.

Here’s where lawmakers can draw a line and reduce gun violence: anyone who uses a firearm in a crime of violence or carries a gun without a license loses the right to bear arms, period, whether it results in a felony or misdemeanor.

Brandish a gun in a crime of violence? Lose the right to bear arms.

Show up at a former lover’s place with a gun in your hand? Forget packing heat, ever again.

Carry a pistol without a license? Yes, lose the right to possess a gun forever.

“If someone wants to get a gun illegally, we can’t stop that,” says retired D.C. police lieutenant Lowell Duckett, “but if they get caught using that gun in a crime – we can step in and say: never again.”

The District has strong laws prohibiting criminals from gun possession. Under D.C. Code 22-4503, any person convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a year or more cannot possess a firearm. Same for a fugitive, anyone addicted to controlled substances, subject to various court orders, or convicted of an intra-family offense in the last five years.

Even those laws could be stiffened, especially for juveniles. For example, anyone convicted of CPWL -- carrying a pistol without a license -- should lose the right to possess a gun, regardless of age. A second CPWL should result in a felony and jail time.

What law, you might ask, actually stops someone from carrying around a gun illegally, without a permit? None of the above. But if that a felon or a misdemeanor offender is caught with a weapon, they face significant jail terms.

The message that carrying around guns will put you in jail for hard time must permeate the community.

Back to Edgar Welch. If he leaves court Friday with a misdemeanor rather than a felony, he could cross the Potomac, buy a gun in Virginia and return to Comet to “self-investigate” the sex ring. The Old Dominion does not prohibit those convicted of misdemeanor gun offenses from owning a firearm.

Whether one state honors another state’s gun laws is complicated, according to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

North Carolina has stiffer laws. A “misdemeanor assault by pointing a gun, as defined by state law” is enough to lose your right to bear arms in that state, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Let’s hope Welch never touches a firearm again. That would square with one of the NRA’s favorite maxims: It’s the person, not the gun. As a person, Welch has disqualified himself.

We are awash in guns here in the nation’s capital. Illegal weapons flow in from all corners, especially Virginia. Thieves have hit four gun shops in the region in the past month and stolen weaponry from three. No doubt some will wind up on our streets.

There’s no stopping the endless supply of pistols and assault rifles. DC police recovered 79 illegal weapons over the last three weeks, D.C. police report, adding up to a typical take of 25 guns every week. 

There’s no stopping misguided congressmen and senators from trying to neuter the District’s ability to regulate guns.

But we can strengthen our laws to make sure anyone carrying or using a gun for criminal activities loses the right to bear arms.

That certainly applies to Edgar Maddox Welch. Whether he’s a monster or not, he should never be able to possess a gun again.

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