OP-ED: D.C.’s gun laws may have saved our democracy

Strict gun laws do not fully stifle those with direct lawless intent, but they do greatly reduce destructive potential.

This article originally appeared in The Washington Post

By Malvika R. Reddy and Karl A. Racine

Malvika R. Reddy, a sophomore at Georgetown Day School, is the co-director of March for Our Lives Maryland. Karl A. Racine, a Democrat, is the D.C. attorney general.

More than 240,000 students have experienced gun violence at their school since Columbine in 1999. For the students whose schools have been spared, drills meant to simulate and prepare for the experience ensure that the threat is omnipresent. On Jan. 6, that same threat descended on the Capitol. Domestic terrorists attacked the seat of American democracy, intending to violently subvert the will of the people.

These insurrectionists came armed with zip ties, pepper spray, pipe bombs, smoke devices and other weapons. They wanted not only to disrupt the proceedings that ratified Joe Biden as the next president of the United States but also to inflict harm on our legislators and on Vice President Mike Pence. Ultimately, the insurrectionists failed, and this outrageous assault—while deadly—narrowly avoided descending into more horrific violence.

We may have D.C.’s gun laws to thank for averting such disaster.

D.C. has among the strictest gun laws in the country. We have banned assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and we do not permit the open carry of firearms. We have background checks, domestic violence protections, concealed carry permits and more. D.C. gun restrictions make it illegal to carry concealed weapons, even with a permit, within 1,000 feet of a protest or at museums, monuments and federal properties.

Strict gun laws do not fully stifle those with direct lawless intent, but they do greatly reduce destructive potential and give law enforcement a better chance of holding perpetrators accountable. D.C.’s common-sense measures likely prevented an exponentially more destructive confrontation at the Capitol. We saw the crowd use the tools at their immediate disposal—flagpoles, crutches, fire extinguishers—to ruthlessly beat armed police officers. Though some individuals within the mob were armed with handguns, consider what could have happened had these impulsive insurrectionists been able to legally carry long rifles or semiautomatics in D.C. It is easy to imagine them using these weapons to capture Capitol police and force their way to members of Congress. Very little would have stood in the way of worse bloodshed.

Instead, our gun laws limited the scale of violence and will now help us hold accountable those who were caught carrying firearms to what was initially disguised as a lawful protest. These laws actively aided in the cause of protecting our democracy and our efforts to recover through accountability.

Some of the members of Congress spirited away to secure locations for their safety are the same legislators who have consistently stymied gun control efforts nationwide. Whether they have stood idly by or actively hindered gun reform, these legislators have left our schools vulnerable, normalizing the necessity of mass shooting drills. Hiding from rioters with deadly weapons is a small taste of what children across this country risk every day when they go into school. And while these legislators benefited from D.C.’s restrictions, most Americans do not enjoy the same protections.

Each year that the country waits on absentee legislators to address the gun crisis, the number of impacted and traumatized children grows. Youths understand, perhaps better than anyone, the devastating threat of guns in America.

It’s time for the country to embrace common-sense action on gun violence. The new administration can start by reinstating the federal assault weapons ban. Legislators—even those in states with strong laws already on the books—can prioritize measures to ensure guns are not brought to public buildings and public spaces, to schools or to protests. And here in D.C., as in many of the nation’s largest cities, we must redouble our efforts to combat the influx of illegal firearms that have taken so many young lives.

The pandemic may have granted a brief reprieve, but the data shows that the number of school shootings is trending upward. Legislators and public officials must take swift and decisive action to protect American children. We implore pro-gun lawmakers in all states to reconsider their position on the kinds of common-sense gun restrictions that likely saved their lives.