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MILLER: Every D.C. firearm owner to be fingerprinted to renew gun registry

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Fingerprint Technician Sedearia Wilson-Jackson records digital fingerprints of a participant of a handgun qualification license class in order to qualify to own a handgun at Gilbert Indoor Range, Rockville, Md., Sunday, November 17, 2013. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)

The 1,800 or so criminals who have killed, robbed or assaulted innocent people with guns in the District of Columbia so far this year were hauled into the police station to be fingerprinted, photographed and to undergo a criminal-background check.

Now, legal gun owners who have committed no crime are getting the exact same treatment. That is neither constitutional, nor fair.

The latest gun-control scheme that starts on Jan. 1 will force every legal firearm owner in the nation’s capital to go in person to police headquarters to renew their registration certificates.

The Metropolitan Police Department filed proposed rules last week to enact this absurd law, and citizens have until Dec. 15 to comment on the regulations.

To avoid becoming a felon, anyone with a gun registered before 2011 will have to go to police headquarters to be fingerprinted, photographed, provide proof of address, pay a fee and confirm they may still legally possess the firearm. The Firearms Registration Section will then create a new registration certificate — now in the form of an ID card — for each gun.

This operation could end up making the rollout of Obamacare look smooth and easy.

The police propose scheduling everyone in three-month windows based on your birthday. The eight windows start on Jan. 1 and go through 2015. They intend to set up an online system to make an appointment. The department is trying to set up a system to accept credit cards for the $13-per-gun fee, but that has not been finalized.

George Lyon, who was a plaintiff in the original Heller case, pointed out that it will cost him $104 to re-register his eight guns. “I don’t see that they need a re-registration system at all,” the Washington lawyer told me “But if they do, this whole thing ought really to be done online, automated and without adding more fees.”

The renewal process was supposed to be done online and by mail and start in 2012, but the police did not retain any of the fingerprints or photos taken until March 2013.

Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier testified before the D.C. Council’s Judiciary Committee in January 2012 against keeping the three-year limit on certificates because her department did not have the resources, and so it “may cost more than the potential benefit.”

City Council Chairman Phil Mendelson refused to let it drop, but passed a law to give D.C. police a two-year extension.

In an interview late Wednesday, Mr. Mendelson said that, “The reason for renewals is to make sure people don’t become disqualified to own a firearm.”

I pointed out that the police could easily run gun owners’ names and social security numbers through the FBI’s background-check system at any point. “I don’t want a name based system because it’s not as good for identification as fingerprints.”

The registration-renewal requirement is already being challenged in court. Heller v. District of Columbia — commonly known as “Heller II” — takes on the entire registration law that was enacted in 2009 after the Supreme Court overturned the District’s 30-year-old handgun ban in the original Heller decision.

Dick Heller, the lead plaintiff, asked me of the requirement, “What’s the point? Will that make the bad guys come down and register? Nope, just the law-abiding.”

Heller II is pending in federal district court with each side filing motions for summary judgment this month and next.

“Re-registration is onerous and completely unnecessary and is a trap for the unwary,” said Stephen P. Halbrook, the lead attorney for Heller II. “Fail to re-register for whatever reason, and you’re committing a crime — possession of an unregistered firearm. This is plain harassment for exercise of a constitutional right.”

The whole convoluted mess will not do a single thing to make the city safer.

A police spokesman estimates there are approximately 30,000 firearms registered to private citizens in D.C. This number is remarkably low for a city of 600,000 because most law-abiding people won’t go through the 11 steps necessary to register.

And, as Mr. Heller pointed out, the criminals aren’t showing up at police headquarters to offer up their fingerprints or take a written test before buying guns.

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About the Author

Emily Miller

Emily Miller is senior editor of opinion for The Washington Times. She is the author of “Emily Gets Her Gun … But Obama Wants to Take Yours” (Regnery 2013). Miller won the 2012 Clark Mollenhoff Award for Investigative Reporting from the Institute on Political Journalism.

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