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Senate Approves D.C. Voting Rights Bill With Gun Amendment

The Senate approved, by a 61 to 37 vote, the D.C. Voting Rights bill that would give the city its first ever seat in the House of Representatives. However, the Senate did so only after adding a controversial amendement that would repeal most of the District's local gun-control regulations, potentially throwing a wrench into the process.

The D.C. Vote bill would expand the House permanently by two seats. One would go to strongly Democratic D.C., while the other would go to the next state in line to pick up a seat based on population count. For two years, that seat would be Republican-leaning Utah. It would then pass to whichever state qualified based on Census results.

If it becomes law, the bill will expand the House for the first time since 1913. But it is likely to face a legal challenge that could go all the way to the Supreme Court.

The gun amendement makes the Senate's D.C. Vote legislation significantly different from a companion bill in the House, which is expected to face a floor vote next week.

Differences between the two bills would have to be worked out in negotiations between the two chambers. Proponents of the bill said they hoped the gun language could be removed during those talks.

The gun amendment is similar to a sweeping measure approved by the House last year that was fiercely opposed by the D.C. government. It would limit the District's authority to restrict firearms, repeal the D.C. semiautomatic gun ban and remove gun-registration requirements.

Opponents denounced it on the Senate floor.

"It's reckless, it's irresponsible, it will lead to more violence," charged Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). She said that approval of the amendment would be "the first step to removing all common-sense gun regulation all over this land."

The sponsor of the amendment, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev) said his goal was "to remove the tremendous barriers and burdens on law-abiding citizens" in the city who were seeking to "protect themselves in their own homes."

He pointed to a large chart showing the D.C. murder rate over the years. "We want the law-abiding citizens to have the arms--not just the criminals," he said. Ensign charged that the D.C. goverment hadn't gone far enough in reforming its gun laws since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the city's handgun ban last year.

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and D.C. Council members disagree with that conclusion. They furiously protested the firearms amendment.

"The District of Columbia leadership is fully united in its opposition to unwarranted amendments that would dramatically damage the District's carefully revised gun law and expose the District to great harm through the undoing of its laws," D.C. Council President Vincent C. Gray and Council Member Phil Mendelson, chairman of the council's public-safety commission, said in a letter to Congress released yesterday.

In a statement after the Senate's vote, Ilir Zherka, executive director of D.C. Vote, a lobbying group, said the city has passed a "significant hurdle in our fight for full democracy for DC residents."

But he added of the gun amendment: "If anything, this amendment has strengthened our resolve to continue to fight for the rights of Washingtonians. Congress repeatedly treats the District as a testing ground for flawed, dangerous legislation. This has to stop - and we'll keep fighting to ensure that the bill signed into law is not tainted by this amendment."

Mendelson said after the vote: "The Senate action is of huge concern because the implications are far greater than anyone can imagine. It strips our authority. The irony here is that on one hand they vote to give us voting representation, but on the other hand they strip any local representation in regards to our gun laws. ... If this prevails [in the end], strengthening our laws against gun violence will be constrained. That has huge public safety implications."

-- By Mary Beth Sheridan and David Nakamura

D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty speaks to the press D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty speaks to the press after the historic vote. (Hamil Harris/Post)

By David A Nakamura  |  February 26, 2009; 4:44 PM ET
Categories:  Voting Rights  
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The root of the issue is that DC residents have no say in what Congress does one way or the other.

Posted by: lights1 | February 26, 2009 4:28 PM | Report abuse

Damn gun-industry lackeys.

Posted by: csdiego | February 26, 2009 4:49 PM | Report abuse

The kicker? Ensign voted against the final bill!

Posted by: -Niv- | February 26, 2009 4:49 PM | Report abuse

It's clearly another blow to the Republicans.

Posted by: TalkingHead1 | February 26, 2009 4:50 PM | Report abuse

If that turns out to be the cost of representation we ought to decline the offer.

Posted by: seedee | February 26, 2009 4:53 PM | Report abuse

congress can no more give dc a member of the house of reps than it could quam or cuba or france or russia.
dc isn't a state fools - ITS A DISTRICT.
only states can have members in congress - now they could give them a non voting member - but not one that votes.

Posted by: infantry11b4faus | February 26, 2009 4:56 PM | Report abuse

The root of the issue is that DC residents have no say in what Congress does one way or the other.

Posted by: lights1 | February 26, 2009 4:28 PM


But wouldn't they have known that before they moved into DC?

Posted by: diesel4 | February 26, 2009 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Woohoo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I like the gun amendment too.

GO DC!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: johng1 | February 26, 2009 5:02 PM | Report abuse

No matter which bill gets signed, the Supreme Court will throw it out. The only way to get DC a seat is by Constitutional amendment which will never happen.

Posted by: jschofield1 | February 26, 2009 5:04 PM | Report abuse

The Constitution says only states may have representatives. What part of the word "state" do these senators not understand? Have they forgotten that they each took an oath to defend the Constitution not shred it? If you want to change the Constitution, there's a process for amending it.

Posted by: ABienstock | February 26, 2009 5:04 PM | Report abuse

This extra provision is completely ridiculous. How is D.C. finally getting a voice in Congress linked to its gun laws? Do other States have such restrictions placed on them in order to get representation? Can we also put some other caveat to the next state to gain a seat, Utah in this case most likely? How can we let OUR DEMOCRACY be bartered by politics? Is this the message we want to send to the rest of the world?

Posted by: Winnie4 | February 26, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

I liked Coburn's amendment about exempting us DC residents from paying any federal income taxes. Now that's a law I could get behind! Too bad only 7 senators voted for it.

Posted by: seriesoftubescleaner | February 26, 2009 5:11 PM | Report abuse

People ...

Second amendment rights are fundamental civil rights! You infringe those rights at the cost of others as well.

DC residents have as much right to representation as they have to own and carry arms for lawful purposes.

The hysteria and outright lying over these rights is just incredible.

But to be legitimate, it would take a new constitutional amendment for DC residents to get lawful representation. And it would take the repeal of a current constitutional amendment to deny DC residents their right to own and carry arms.

Posted by: ambiguae | February 26, 2009 5:12 PM | Report abuse

It's nice to see some respect for DC residents. People would do well to realize that our Capital city would do much better with the same balance of legislative power and representation that every other American state/commonwealth has. People live here and pay taxes, darnit. And if this bill gets signed, hopefully they'll have the same state rights as everywhere else to legislate their own gun laws. That's the way America works. USA!

Posted by: DC_Grrl | February 26, 2009 5:15 PM | Report abuse

Congress just said No bullet, No ballot to the nearly half-million American citizens who live in DC. In any other country we would call them warlords. Here we call them Senators.

Posted by: MarianneDC | February 26, 2009 5:16 PM | Report abuse

I am infuriated that members of the Congress who do not even live in DC have the gall to try to change laws that home-rule government has rightfully set up. Do we believe in democracy and self-government or not? It's bad enough that DC residents don't have voting representation in Congress, but to have a Senator from Nevada hitch this amendment to the very bill that might finally begin to enfranchise DC voters is outrageous. Let Sen. Ensign worry about gun laws in Nevada for his own constituents and leave the local DC government to worry about DC gun laws.

To diesel4: Many DC residents have been here for generations. Their lives are here, their families are here, their jobs are here. Many simply do not have the financial means to move to Maryland or Virginia. Do they somehow not merit a vote in their own governing body because of this?

Posted by: cejacobs1 | February 26, 2009 5:18 PM | Report abuse

Funny, the language of the Second Amendment seems to apply to states, too - not those ratty little Districts and Territories of the Union. That didn't stop SCOTUS from deciding Heller against the District, though.

Besides, the Constitution also has a clause saying the Congress can do what it wants with the District. If Congress wants to give DC a partial voice in government, that's their prerogative.

Posted by: TheAMT | February 26, 2009 5:33 PM | Report abuse

The notion that people should just move out of the District if they don't like the fact that the city lacks voting representation is plain ridiculous. Just because DC residents have been disenfranchised for over 200 years doesn't make it right to continue the disenfranchisement, and moving to a state doesn't solve the underlying problem. I suppose people who make the "move to a state" argument would have said the same thing to African Americans back in the 1800s who lived in slave states: "If you don't like living in a slave state, boy, just move to a free state." The District is treated like a state in other matters when it's convenient (like federal taxation), but not when it comes to voting rights. The founding fathers were far from perfect when creating the Constitution, but we have a way to remedy their imperfection. I support DC's efforts to get a voting member of Congress, but I think it should be done via a constitutional amendment. That amendment should allow for representation in both houses of Congress (two Senators and at least one House member, based on population).

Posted by: SWRez1 | February 26, 2009 5:36 PM | Report abuse

I think this "Gun" issue is a great opportunity for America.

Once and for all we can test gun control laws to see if they have any effect.

Repeal D.C's draconian laws for a five year period and evaluate the outcome.

This should make both the NRA and the Brady bunch happy.

Posted by: Nikota | February 26, 2009 6:38 PM | Report abuse

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