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DC Gun Rights: Do You Want This Next to Your Bed?
Comments () | Published March 1, 2008
Joe Bisbee takes down gun-trafficking networks for the feds. If DC’s gun ban loses in court, he says, the flow of guns is bound to increase. Photograph by Matthew Worden.

Joe Bisbee: Gun shops in DC?

Joe Bisbee is the top federal gun-hunter in DC, but he spends most of his time in Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, and elsewhere.

“We have a different agenda than the DC police,” he says. “They are looking to fight crime and take guns off the street. We’re trying to cut off the source.”

Bisbee, 41, is the lead street agent with the Washington unit of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. Since 1995 he’s been trying to take down gun-trafficking networks bringing illegal weapons into DC.

“The one-gun-a-month law in Virginia has affected people’s ability to bring a quantity of guns into the District,” he says of the mid-1990s law. “Maryland has strengthened some laws, too. But people will always find a way around.”

People like Garfield Hedlam.

Bisbee found a Bryco nine-millimeter pistol whose obliterated serial number he was able to restore. He traced it to a person in Norfolk, who fingered Hedlam.

Hedlam was an enlisted man in the Navy. Bisbee’s team tracked him from gun stores in Virginia to his home in Maryland. He used “straw purchasers” to buy guns in Virginia that he would resell for twice the price in Maryland and DC.

When they took down Hedlam and his group, Bisbee’s people identified 57 firearms and arrested ten straw purchasers.

Bisbee says DC’s handgun ban is “another tool we can use to go after criminals using guns. It gives us a reason to arrest.”

And if the Supreme Court overturns the ban and guns can be sold legally in DC?

“Are we going to have gun shops in DC?” he asks. “If so, it means I will be working closer to home.”

Sergeant Curt Sloan says the way to make DC safe from gun violence is to deploy a unit of 29 cops dedicated to recovering illegal guns. No matter how the Supreme Court rules on DC’s handgun ban, he says, thugs will have guns and use them until they are taken away. Photograph by Matthew Worden.

Curt Sloan: “There will alway be thugs with guns”

Sergeant Curt Sloan is the DC police department’s most experienced gun-recovery cop. His squads have taken thousands of guns off the streets. Former chief Charles Ramsey didn’t see gun recovery as a priority and disbanded the unit. Chief Cathy Lanier reinstated it last October.

Up and running now with a force of 29, the Gun Recovery Unit has seized 94 handguns, three assault rifles, nine shotguns, and 11 rifles since November 1.

“If you keep recovering guns,” Sloan says, “violence has to go down.”

If the Supreme Court overturns the ban and allows DC residents to register handguns, will that make his job harder?

“Not really,” he says. “They’re still not going to issue licenses to carry on the street. They’re just talking about the ability to license in the home.

“There will always be thugs with guns. They need guns to ply their trade. That’s who we focus on.”

But a change in the law won’t matter, he says. “It could put more guns on the street. A good person can be conned into buying a gun that will be used by a bad guy. But it won’t change much. Thugs don’t go by laws.”

Born in Pittsburgh, Sloan, 48, came to DC in 1986 and joined the police department two years later. He made sergeant in 1993 and has focused on guns ever since.

“The criminal element is carrying guns more than in the past,” he says. “More guys are carrying more guns. More are willing to use them.”

Sloan and his squad, in SWAT gear, head out to search a house for guns. “We are being legally aggressive,” he says.

Maryland attorney general Douglas Gansler, who filed a brief backing DC’s gun ban, says he saw that law work when he was a prosecutor in DC. Photograph by Matthew Worden.

Douglas Gansler: DC should be able to draw the line on handguns

Douglas Gansler, Maryland’s attorney general, began his legal career as a federal prosecutor in DC, locking up violent criminals. “I saw how effective a tool DC’s gun-control law could be in taking criminals off the streets,” he says.

Maryland, with Gansler’s support, has joined New York, Illinois, and other states in filing legal briefs backing the DC ban in the impending Supreme Court case.

“It’s almost absurd to think that the Second Amendment grants the right to bear arms to an individual,” Gansler says.

Gansler, 45, grew up in Montgomery County. After the University of Virginia law school, he became a federal prosecutor in DC. He then served as Montgomery County’s state’s attorney for eight years before winning the race for attorney general in 2006.

One could argue that Gansler’s advocacy of handgun control in DC puts him on thin ice. DC cops trace the majority of guns taken off city streets to Maryland. Realco, a gun shop in Prince George’s County, sells “more than three times the number of traced guns as the next most frequent dealer,” according to DC’s 2006 annual report on guns.

“We’re aware of that,” Gansler says. “The guns are bought legally, then transported illegally into DC. The law allows people from other jurisdictions to come to Maryland and buy guns if they don’t have a felony record. What you do with the guns is your business.”

Gansler says he is “not one of those antigun zealots. I have no problem with having guns in the home to protect the family. What I’m unwilling to accept is that people have a constitutional right to do so.”

Gansler and the others who joined the Supreme Court amicus brief argues that states have a right to regulate weapons. “States can ban assault rifles, bazookas, tanks,” he says. “The District of Columbia has drawn the line down to handguns.

“If people don’t agree with that,” he says, “then they can change the law.”

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Posted at 12:00 AM/ET, 03/01/2008 RSS | Print | Permalink | Washingtonian.com Articles