News & Politics

Rand Paul’s Attempt to Gut DC’s Gun Laws Flunks Basic Statistics

The Tea Party hero wants to overturn the city’s gun laws, but he should probably check his figures first.

Rand Paul may want to take another look at his statistics. Photograph by Christopher Halloran via Shutterstock.

If Senator Rand Paul wants to lead the club of congressional interlopers who like to mess around with the District’s laws, he could at least take a statistics course first. Paul, the Kentucky Republican and Tea Party icon, is trying to amend a hunting and fishing bill with a provision that would gut DC’s stringent gun laws.

Paul wants to get rid of the District’s firearm registration requirements and the ban on semiautomatic handguns—measures he says are necessary because, he claims, DC sports the highest murder rate in the nation. From the text of his amendment:

“The District of Columbia has the highest per capita murder rate in the nation, which may be attributed in part to local laws prohibiting possession of firearms by law-abiding persons who would otherwise be able to defend themselves and their loved ones in their own homes and businesses.”

A crucial caveat here: DC has the highest homicide rate when measured against states, with 13.9 per 100,000 residents, according to the FBI’s uniform crime reporting for 2012. But the District, as it bears reminding Paul, is a city, not a state, and should be compared against other cities. The junior senator from Kentucky just made the same mistake as those websites that churn out silly rankings like “US States Most and Least Likely to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse.” (For the record, DC is 49th. Take that, Mississippi and New Jersey!)

As far as cities are concerned, that same FBI crime report puts the District’s homicide rate at eighth among cities with a population of at least 500,000. That’s not great, and it’s worth taking that ranking with the knowledge that homicides this year are up 49 percent over the same point in 2013.

But this is more about Paul attempting to burnish his political cred by foisting his whims on the District. His amendment is similar to one raised last year in the House by Representative Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican with visions of taking over the House Oversight Committee, a perk of which is being DC’s congressional overlord. Advocates for DC legislative autonomy and statehood sound sick of these antics.

“Can you believe we’re here again?” says Kimberly Perry, the executive director of the pro-statehood group DC Vote. “I mostly want people to know Senator Paul continues to ignore his small-government principles. It’s not only offensive, it’s hypocritical and completely out of touch with local concerns.”

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton is also exasperated, noting that this is not Paul’s first foray into needling the District. In a statement, her office slams Paul for sinking a 2012 bill that would have granted DC budget autonomy from Congress with an amendment that would have blocked the District government from paying for abortions for low-income women.

A federal judge ruled in May that the District’s current gun laws, including the ban on owners carrying handguns outside their homes, are constitutional. Paul’s amendment also seeks to overturn it.

The amendment will likely disappear, perhaps along with the Sportsmen’s Act he attached it to, a relatively inoffensive measure to relax fishing and hunting restrictions on federal lands. According to Politico, Paul isn’t the only senator floating controversy-stoking amendments, making it possible that the Sportsmen’s Act will suffer death by a thousand parliamentary procedures.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.