The District's top lawmaker wants to loosen penalties for nonresidents who break two of the city's firearms laws, part of a gun-control policy long considered to be one of the nation's most stringent.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson has introduced legislation that would allow prosecutors to offer "administrative dispositions" to nonresidents accused of possessing unregistered firearms or ammunition, allowing them to avoid criminal convictions.
The D.C. attorney general could extend similar offers to District residents and nonresidents alike if they were accused of possessing a single restricted pistol bullet.
In an interview Monday, Mendelson said his proposal would address "honest mistakes" by people who enter the city without knowing of its firearms restrictions.
"The current law may be too harsh for that limited circumstance," he said. "It would be very limited to a circumstance where there is no other charge, no other issue, no reason to be concerned about the safety of citizens or government officials."
Under existing D.C. law, a person convicted of the misdemeanor charge of possessing an unregistered firearm faces up to a year in jail and a fine. An unregistered ammunition charge carries the same maximum penalty.
But administrative dispositions would potentially allow nonresidents to keep clean criminal histories by paying a fine, a procedure similar to the one the city uses for many arrested protesters. The dispositions couldn't be used to revoke, suspend or deny any type of license or be considered a violation of someone's parole or probation.
Mendelson said that although arrests of out-of-state residents for gun offenses in the District are not daily occurrences, they are not unusual.
"It's a small number of people, but there's some consistency to it," Mendelson said. "It doesn't happen once every 10 years."
The city's gun laws are among nation's most restrictive and have been the subject of repeated legal challenges, most notably in 2008 when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down some of the limits as unconstitutional.
A shooting earlier this month at the headquarters of the Family Research Council that left a guard wounded revived the debate once more. The accused shooter, Floyd Lee Corkins II, allegedly purchased his weapon in Virginia and brought it into the District.
Mayor Vincent Gray, a proponent of tight firearms regulations, said the episode was the latest example of why he has resisted relaxing the District's gun laws.
"He would not have been able to do that in the District of Columbia," Gray said of the assailant's purchase in an interview on NewsChannel 8. "I'm proud of the gun laws we have here."
Mayoral spokesman Pedro Ribeiro said Monday that Gray is reviewing Mendelson's proposal but had not decided whether to endorse the chairman's suggested revisions.
Lawmakers are scheduled to consider the legislation in late September.