Gunnery Network

D.C.'s strict laws on guns not enough to halt shooting
By John Drake and Arlo Wagner
     The National Zoo shootings have sparked calls for tighter gun control, but the District of Columbia's gun laws already considered the nation's strictest apparently failed to keep a 9 mm pistol out of the 16-year-old suspect's hands.

     And gun rights advocates said yesterday the new proposals by Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Vice President Al Gore, among others, aren't likely to stop young criminals from obtaining firearms illegally.

     "There was no shortage of laws that were violated here," said Jim Manown, spokesman for the National Rifle Association. "Whatever compelled him to allegedly possess and use this gun would not have been changed by another gun law."

     The youth charged in the crime Antoine Bernard Jones already broke several laws simply by possessing the gun as a juvenile in the District, which banned handgun ownership and possession in 1975.

     The youth was either given the gun, borrowed it, stole it or bought it on the black market, given the gun laws in the area, which forbid a 16-year-old from buying a gun over the counter.

     "Because the District has a virtual gun ban, it should be a utopian safe haven if the gun control theory has any merit," said John Velleco, spokesman for Gun Owners of America.

     Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey says police will talk with Mr. Jones today to find the gun they say he used and reportedly was seen throwing away.

     The young suspect reportedly is the son of James Antonio Jones, a former enforcer for a city drug gang serving a 29-year prison sentence.

     Police officials said Mr. Jones "was known to police," meaning that he had a prior criminal record, including involvement in armed robberies when he was 13 and an expulsion from a D.C. public school.

     Although juvenile crime has declined, youth violence has reached a crisis stage, which Mr. Williams blamed on the easy access children have to guns.

     Mr. Williams called for a national ban on handguns yesterday, but he also acknowledged that youth crime "is not exclusively a gun problem."

     Mr. Jones reacted to confrontations at the zoo out of anger, rather than as part of a gang or vengeance, said Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer.

     "For whatever reason in this 21st century, kids aren't dealing with anger the way they should," he said.

     Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat, said that weapons flood into Washington, which has the nation's tightest gun laws, from nearby states with weaker laws.

     Chief Gainer said 55 percent of guns seized by D.C. police were purchased in Maryland and Virginia

     Mr. Velleco, of Gun Owners of America, criticized the argument that the District's gun problem starts in Virginia.

     "If guns are so readily accessible there, Virginia should have a higher crime rate and gun crime rate," Mr. Velleco said. "Arlington, right across the river, has a murder rate that's 50 times lower than the District."

     And on Tuesday, Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III fielded questions on the shootings. He went on the air shortly after the mayor told ABC's "Good Morning America" that controlling firearms in Washington required a regional approach. The calls for tighter gun-control laws rankled Mr. Gilmore when Virginia was named as a primary source of weapons in the District.

     "I think that illustrates the frailty of [Mrs. Norton's] gun-control idea. That's not the direction to go," said Mr. Gilmore, a Republican. "We still live in a free country, and as a result we're not watching people all the time. . . . The idea that somehow gun control is going to be the answer . . . demonstrates foursquare that that is not the answer."

     At several fund-raisers this week, Mr. Gore and President Clinton also have cited the zoo shooting for the need for more gun laws.

     They "have shown they don't care so much that children are being killed, they care more how they're being killed," Mr. Velleco said.