Washington police are operating under orders to arrest tourists and other non-residents traveling with spent bullet or shotgun casings, a crime that carries a $1,000 fine, a year in jail and a criminal record, according to a new book about the city's confusing gun laws.
"Empty shell casings are considered ammunition in Washington, D.C., so they are illegal to possess unless you are a resident and have a gun registration certificate," pens Emily Miller in her investigative book, "Emily Gets Her Gun: ... But Obama Wants to Take Yours."
Under the law, live or empty brass and plastic casings must be carried in a special container and unavailable to drivers. Having one, for example, in a cup holder or ash tray is illegal.
She told Secrets that the police are "under orders to arrest tourists or other legal gun owners from out of state who wouldn't think to empty brass and plastic from their cars or pockets."
In her newly debuted book about the difficulty getting a gun in Washington, known for tough anti-gun laws, D.C. Police provided Miller with a copy of a recent "roll call" advisory that tells cops to overlook spent casings in the cars and trucks of city residents who have their gun registration certificate with them when detained, despite the law.
The advisory gives the example of a used .45 cartridge in a SUV's cup holder easily seen by a cop who had pulled a District resident over for an unrelated traffic issue. "In order to comply with the law," said the July 2012 police advisory, "the cartridge case should be stored so it is not accessible from the from the passenger compartment and the driver is, in fact violating the law and could be placed under arrest for this action."
Because the driver had a copy of his District gun license, arrest was not recommended.
Tourists without that city license, however, don't get the same treatment, said Miller.
She highlights the case of Army Specialist Adam Meckler who in 2011 was arrested for coming into the city from Virginia for a meeting at the Department of Veterans' Affairs while accidentally carrying a handful of bullets — but no gun — in his backpack. As he passed through a magnetometer, a guard yelled "Cuff him!" and he was held for hours, not knowing his crime.
"People looked at me like I was a terrorist," he said, calling the incident an accident. He was prosecuted and almost lost a job because he now has a criminal record and is on the city's gun offenders list. "I felt like I was registering as a sex offender," he told Miller who noted that NBC Meet the Press host David Gregory went "scot-free" for brandishing an illegal 30-round magazine while interviewing NRA's Wayne LaPierre in the network's D.C. studios last December.
Miller, a Washington Times editor, called the D.C. law stupid. "A brass candlestick can do more harm than an empty brass casing. I often have empty casings in my bags and clothes from when they fly off at the range, or as souvenirs," she wrote.
The law covering the transport of guns, ammo, and used ammo casings was enacted in 2009 after the Supreme Court overturned the District's 30-year gun ban in 2008.
Paul Bedard, The Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.