WASHINGTON — People who carry concealed handguns near public events and demonstrations in the nation's capital shouldn't have to be personally warned by a police officer before they are subject to arrest, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said Thursday.
Lanier testified at a hearing on the D.C. Council's proposal to allow residents and visitors to get concealed handgun permits for the first time in nearly 40 years. The bill was drafted in response to a judge's ruling this summer that struck down the District of Columbia's ban on carrying guns outside the home.
The bill would ban the carrying of handguns within 1,000 feet of a public event, demonstration or dignitary under police protection. Lanier said those restrictions are vital because the nation's capital is a target for terrorists and lone gunmen who would seek to harm the president or other officials.
Mayor Vincent Gray has already signed a temporary version of the bill. Lanier said Thursday that people will be able to start applying for concealed-carry permits next week.
But she's seeking some changes to the permanent version of the law. Organizers of large events that are publicized in advance should not have to hire police officers to warn gun owners to keep their weapons at home, Lanier said.
"The fact that the event is a gun-free event and is both posted and advertised should be sufficient notice," she said.
Lanier said officers would be instructed not to immediately arrest people for violating the restriction, but that police should have the power to arrest someone who refuses to leave after being asked.
Lanier conceded that it was difficult to provide advance notice of motorcades carrying dignitaries through city streets and said it was reasonable for gun owners in the vicinity of such events to be personally warned.
The police chief also disputed the claim advanced by some gun-rights advocates that allowing concealed carrying makes communities safer.
"I have seen time and time again, people who are going to commit violent crimes are not deterred by the thought that you might be armed," she said.
The chief wants to amend the bill to ban taxi drivers from carrying guns, noting that in most major cities, taxis are treated the same as public transportation. Also, a ban on carrying guns inside government buildings should be expanded to include their grounds and parking lots, she said.
The concealed-carry bill would require residents to show a specific reason why they need to carry a handgun for self-defense, as in a handful of other states, including Maryland, New Jersey and New York. Gun-rights advocates have said a desire for self-defense should be the only prerequisite for obtaining a permit, and they're challenging the bill in court as an insufficient response to the judge's ruling.
Representatives of several churches testified that houses of worship should be added to the list of buildings where guns are banned, and D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells, chairman of the council's public safety committee, said he supported that change. He said churches could decide to allow guns, but those that don't should not have to post signage.
"The presumption should be that guns are not allowed in churches," he said.
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