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
David A Nakamura
February 26, 2009; 4:44 PM ET
Categories: Voting Rights
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