The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a handgun ban in the nation’s capital, but it doesn’t mean that Washington, D.C., residents can now protect themselves with the most common handguns used for personal defense. The recent Heller decision struck down the District of Columbia’s prohibition on handguns, but the Court’s decision may not directly affect a preexisting D.C. ban on “machine guns,” which are defined by the 1976 Washington, D.C., City Council as:
… any firearm which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily converted or restored to shoot: (A) Automatically, more than 1 shot by a single function of the trigger; (B) Semiautomatically, more than 12 shots without manual reloading.
The D.C. definition is self-contradictory; a “machine gun” is a fully automatic weapon that has the capability to fire a continuous string of bullets for as long as the trigger is depressed and the weapon has ammunition, and a semi-automatic is a firearm that fires one shot per trigger pull. Self-contradictory or not, this 1976 provision is still apparently the law, and may effectively outlaw semi-automatic handguns registered prior to 1976. For the time being, D.C. residents may be forced to rely on revolvers if they want a handgun.
Some gun control advocates suggest that a revolver-only D.C. is a partial victory for them, but the D.C. City Council may be creating a situation where the handguns legally available in Washington are more lethal than they would otherwise be.
Gun control groups have argued that the greater cartridge capacity of semi-automatic pistols and the ability to quickly reload them with a fresh magazine makes them more dangerous than revolvers. The assumption is that more bullets will be fired during shootings using a pistol than shootings using revolvers. Evidence from actual shootings, however, rarely bears this assertion out as fact. Most authorities have cited a rate of roughly three to four shots fired per incident, a statistic that has not varied greatly from year to year, regardless of the kind of handgun used.