WASHINGTON -- If John W. Hinckley Jr. had tried to legally buy a revolver in Washington, the nation's toughest gun control laws would have stopped him.
The District of Columbia prohibits the sale of any handgun, including the so-called 'Saturday Night Special' that Hinckley is accused of using to shoot President Reagan Monday.
Hinckley bought the pistol last fall in Dallas, where gun laws are relatively lax, and violated a D.C. law when he entered the city with it last month.
'You cannot legally purchase a handgun in the District of Columbia,' said Police Department spokesman Gary Hankins. 'You cannot bring a handgun in the District if you move here. We have the toughest law in the country.'
But what many persons do is legally purchase guns in neighboring Virginia and Maryland and then, without difficulty, bring them into the city.
Hankins said there are are about 27,000 privately owned handguns -- one for every 24 persons -- in the city that were bought before the gun law went into effect in 1976.
Under the law, people who already had guns were allowed to keep them, as long as they were re-registered.
Private security agencies and law enforcement agencies are allowed to buy guns for their officers to carry.
But police say violent crime has risen in D.C. despite the gun law.
'We've had a rather dramatic increase in the first quarter of this year,' Hankins said, adding crime was up 13 percent in 1980 over 1979.
In Maryland, only a few days' wait and a clear record are needed to buy a handgun from a dealer. If the gun is purchased from a private individual, no regulations apply.
Maryland State Police Detective Sergeant Robert Hampshire said the prospective gun owner fills out an application at the dealership, which is forwarded to the state police.
'If there are no convictions for crime of violence, and he does't appear to be an alcoholic or have been in a mental hospital, he can buy the gun,' said Hampshire. 'And the conviction has to be for a crime of violence.'
At Virginia gunshops, only completion of a registration form is required. The form is sent to federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms officials. There is no waiting period.
That's nearly the same requirement as in Texas, where Hinckley bought his weapon from Rocky's Pawn Shop in Dallas. Authorities said Hinckley showed a Texas driver's license for identification, and answered in the negative when asked if he used narcotics, was a felon or had ever been committed to a mental institution.