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Posted at 5:46 PM ET, 03/ 3/2009

D.C. Voting Rights and the Poison Pill

By Marisa Katz

The nation's capital is close to getting a much sought-after voting rights bill. But "close," as the saying goes, counts only in horseshoe games, and in throwing hand grenades.

While the Voting Rights Act of 2009 nears enactment, the version that passed by the Senate last Thursday, by a vote of 61-37, is not a bill that President Obama should sign into law.

The Senate's version gives the District a vote in the House of Representatives. That's fine as far as it goes. Unfortunately, the Senate also loaded the bill with a pro-gun amendment blessed by National Rifle Association and sponsored by Nevada Republican Sen. John Ensign. The Ensign amendment, as the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence has noted, would gut the District's new gun law entirely, eliminate the city's firearms registration system, legalize assault weapons and allow D.C. residents to buy guns in Maryland and Virginia without D.C. government oversight. And to further twist the knife in the city's back, the amendment prohibits the D.C. Council from enacting any gun restrictions.

Washington D.C. deserves a voice and vote in Congress, but also the right to fashion gun laws consistent with the Second Amendment. The Senate-passed bill grants the former, but bars the latter.

The House can remedy the Senate's wrongs. And it will, provided the city and its House supporters have their act together. That means adopting a strategy that keeps the bill free of the poison gun pill that the Senate swallowed last week.

The city faced similar obstacles when the Home Rule bill was enacted in 1973. I was a Senate staffer at the time, serving as the District Committee's minority staff director under Maryland Sen. Charles Mc. Mathias, Jr. We had to fend off killer amendments on the Senate floor -- e.g. one that gave the president exclusive right to appoint the D.C. chief of police, essentially removing police powers from the mayor and council. And in order to get a home rule bill adopted through conference with the House, the Senate was forced to eliminate a provision that would have given the city complete autonomy over its budget without congressional approval.

So supporters of D.C. voting rights should be ready for a fight.

The House leadership, with city backing, should push hard for a rule that disallows a gun amendment from being offered. Simply put, if the House adopts a gun amendment with language identical to the Senate's, the ball game's over. Because there wouldn't be any differences to resolve in conference, there would be little chance of changing, let alone dropping, the gun provision from the bill.

And even if House leaders are successful in blocking such amendments, they should be prepared to resist attempts by their NRA-supporting colleagues to instruct the House conferees to accept the Ensign amendment. That would be a backdoor way of keeping the gun language in the final bill.

Finally, if Congress does send to the White House a voting rights bill with a pro-gun rider, it should be greeted with a presidential veto.

What's the sense of having a voting rights measure that comes with provisions that put the voting D.C. member of Congress -- and everybody else in the nation's capital -- at risk?

That's what the reckless gun measures would do.

By Marisa Katz  | March 3, 2009; 5:46 PM ET
Categories:  DC Vote  
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D.C. has some of the highest rates of gun violence in the country BECAUSE of the unconstitutional gun bill (ironically called a "gun safety act.") In the wake of the historic Heller decision, which overturned D.C.'s misguided gun laws, the city government put in place impossibly onerous regulations for getting and keeping a gun--a system designed to ignore the recent SCOTUS decision and deprive D.C. residents of their constitutional rights. The political philosophy that supports gun bans is one that ignores the reality that banning guns from the hands of law-abiding puts the community in the hands of the gangsters. Such has been the lot of D.C. for three decades. Congress has no duty to hand state-hood or even a semblance of state hood to such a government.

Posted by: SageThrasher | March 4, 2009 2:38 AM | Report abuse

I'm not saying that I would not favor some 'common sense' gun restrictions in DC, i.e.,

no carrying of fully automatic weapons [openly or concealed], no carrying of firearms by ANYONE under 21 and only by those with carry permits [for good cause shown] over the age of 21.

Assault weapons [DC has a strange definition of 'what' constitutes an 'assault weapon'] can be owned by those without assault or drug distribution convictions, or convictions for other crimes of violence.

Domestic violence convictions are not an automatic bar to ownership, but to be determined on a case by case basis, considering the 'tendency' of 'some' to use such items as 'matters of legal extortion' in resolution of domestic disputes, i.e., in cases involving security clearances, property & child custody disputes and sometimes for outright vengeance.

Otherwise, individuals involved in business where they may find themselves alone [Realtors and other licensed professionals, etc], liquor store owners, or those carrying business cash or valuable assets, should have no restrictions [except training certification, unless a veteran with former EXPERT firearm qualification] for the purchase and carrying of a pistol, or purchase of a rifle/shotgun.

Posted by: | March 4, 2009 3:10 AM | Report abuse

I find it ironic that while there are those in DC who keep whining about not having a vote in Congress, they immediately reject retroceding to Maryland. It’s the old, “We want what we want and only the way we want it!”

As to the gun legislation, DC’s gun laws have lead to one of the highest murder rates in the country and most of those murders are committed with guns that are illegal under DC’s unconstitutional gun laws.

Posted by: mtrobt | March 4, 2009 5:52 AM | Report abuse

The laws on the books do not work and unreasonably restrict firearm ownership by law abiding citizens. What you need in D.C., and everywhere else for that matter, is a mandatory minimum for criminals with guns.

Say selling dope gets you a year, well it should get you ten years if you have a gun and the same should apply to all crime.

When a criminal commits a crime with a gun they are making a clear statement that they are willing to kill to get away with whatever it is that they are up to.

We should send a clear message back: Commit crimes in possession of a firearm and you will not see the light of day for much longer than you would had you left it at home.

Molon Labe!

Posted by: MolonFrikenLabe | March 4, 2009 6:32 AM | Report abuse

First off, we should close comments on this article to anyone who doesn't live in the district. I don't have a congressional rep who can come to your town and unilaterally mandate policy, so don't send yours to my town.

Posted by: DCA-John | March 4, 2009 7:22 AM | Report abuse

DCA-John is right. Only legal residents of DC should have a say. Of course, that also means it's a dead issue because they don't have a vote!

It's up to the rest of the nation to give, or not give, a non-state a voting seat in the federal government. That decision will almost certainly be greeted with legal challenges because it violates the Constitution, but in the meantime let's make sure DC follows the Constitution and abides by the Heller decision.

They've shown they can't (or won't) do it themselves.

Posted by: schadenfreude023 | March 4, 2009 7:43 AM | Report abuse

I agree with you, but after Gore lost Tennessee and West Virginia in 2000, Dems seem to have decided that taking a sane, adult aprproach to gun proliferation is politically risky so lets just let people buy Streetsweepers. Which is shameful. And it may not even be good politics. Bill Clinton used support for sensible gun laws very adeptly after Columbine.

Posted by: davidscott1 | March 4, 2009 7:58 AM | Report abuse

For cripes sake, leave the gun amendment in and let's get it on! The amendment makes many of us legal again :)

Posted by: johng1 | March 4, 2009 8:03 AM | Report abuse

"What's the sense of having a voting rights measure that comes with provisions that put the voting D.C. member of Congress -- and everybody else in the nation's capital -- at risk?"

At Risk? Residents are AT RISK right now from the Hood Rats and THUGS that OWN Washington DC streets. They own the streets from Capitol Hill to Malcom X Blvd night and day. And DC residents have NO LEGAL RIGHT to defend themselves. DC has more gun crime than any other city in the world and these crimes are committed by people who have NO REGARD FOR THE LAW. For much to long DC has been a haven for crooked politicians, crooked Police, and THUGS. The Police cannot or will not protect the citizens, and the politicians DO NOT TRUST residents to do it themselves.

The Gun Rights amendment to the bill ensures that residents can be secure in their person, property and effects LEGALLY. Just as they would in any State. DC would like a Vote in congress without actually having to be bound by the Constitution of the United States. If DC does not trust it's residents to be legal gun owners, then they do not deserve representation in Congress.

PS - there is no such thing as an assault weapon. The last Crime committed with a "fully automatic" weapon was a Chevy Chase Bank robbery a few years ago by THUGS that got their AK-47's from a Iraq War VET that brought the guns back in his baggage and sold them to his new "friends".

Posted by: mdsinc | March 4, 2009 8:31 AM | Report abuse

I don't live in the District but believe they should be represented with voting rights. I don't believe they should be saddled with gun laws some jerk in Nevada thinks necessary. That is the responsibility of the District and should represent the wishes of the the people that live there.

This admendment is just another example of how the NRA has a strangle hold on our government and how the Republicans have sold out America to the NRA.

This should be vetoed and rewritten until they get it right.

Posted by: 1ken | March 4, 2009 8:43 AM | Report abuse

mdsinc, do you live in the district?

Granted, I live in NW, but I didn't realize my hometown was such a lawless, squalid hellhole. It's like Mad Max here! Apparently, guns aren't enough at this point - let's just give everyone flamethrowers!

Posted by: DCA-John | March 4, 2009 9:26 AM | Report abuse

mtrobt - keep your old bay seasoning off my half-smoke...

ps: re your point below, correlation is not causality -->

"As to the gun legislation, DC’s gun laws have lead to one of the highest murder rates in the country and most of those murders are committed with guns that are illegal under DC’s unconstitutional gun laws."

Posted by: DCA-John | March 4, 2009 9:29 AM | Report abuse

The total lack of constitutional knowledge within the District must be a result of our abhorrent school system. DC is NOT a STATE, and therefore does not warrant representation in Congress. You cannot have it both ways, either DC abides by the constitution, stop ignore the 2nd Amendment and the Supreme Court, or you stop complaining about not having a vote. Congress could admit DC as a state, but everyone knows the rest of the country would scratch that rapidly.
As a resident of DC I vehemently appose this Voter's right bill unless it is done as the constitution says it should be done. And the District should also stop violating my rights to defend myself from the thugs you all have raised through your misguided school system and laws that have put guns in the hands of all but those that respect the law.

Posted by: zosimos | March 4, 2009 9:37 AM | Report abuse

We'll respect your Courts, your Congress, and your Constitution when you stop treating us like chattel property that "belongs" to the 50 states. We have had neither voice nor vote in the life of the nation for over two centuries.

Equality, nothing more. Equality, nothing less.

Posted by: citizenw | March 4, 2009 10:54 AM | Report abuse

It appears that DC's politicians and elite want the great unwashed to possess a vote, but not the guns to defend themselves.

Posted by: kevinp2 | March 4, 2009 10:59 AM | Report abuse

It sure would be refreshing if someone who purports to be a journalist actually READ the amendment rather than relying on the report of an activist group. Since Mr. King is obviously too lazy or just plain irresponsible to read the text of the bill, let me post VERBATIM from the bill:

"Nothing in the previous two sentences shall be construed to prohibit the District of Columbia from regulating or prohibiting the carrying of firearms by a person, either concealed or openly, other than at the person’s dwelling place, place of business, or on other land possessed by the person."

Contrary to your statement "the amendment prohibits the D.C. Council from enacting any gun restrictions" DC will in fact have the ability to enact gun restrictions.

As for buying guns across state lines, this is governed by FEDERAL law, not state law. DC does not have the right to restrict purchase outside it's jurisdiction.

Again, read the bill carefully. It clearly states the bill shall not "unduly burden the ability of persons not prohibited from possessing firearms under Federal law." So who does it impact? Law abiding citizens Mr. King. If you are naive enough to believe criminals are going to follow the law, let alone even know when it's been modified, then join the ranks of other logic impaired people who have their head in the sand.

You want voting rights? We want our rights back too. Rights are rights Mr. King. you don't get to enjoy yours while suppressing those of others. At least our rights are spelled out in the Constitution. What about yours? Sorry, you don't get to pick and choose which rights you get to enforce.

Posted by: NavyWings | March 4, 2009 11:03 AM | Report abuse

I live in DC. I don't understand the logic of this column at all. What's more important, the right to ban guns or the right to vote in the House? Which is more likely to help people in this city? Who cares if the gun ban is lifted? Is there any evidence at all that it works? If it passes and gun violence increases, we get a representative who can vote to overturn the gun amendment in the future. To oppose this bill, even with this amendment, would be to cut off our nose to spite our face.

Posted by: darkduc_900 | March 4, 2009 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Aren't the people of D.C. citizens of the United States? Let their elected office-holders make the public-safety rules, just as the states do.

Posted by: leifrakur2 | March 4, 2009 1:54 PM | Report abuse

darkduc_900 you are a genius!!! Common sense finally cuts through the fog.

Posted by: mdsinc | March 4, 2009 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Colbert I. King is a disgrace. It is bad enough that we all must listen to his hair-brain diatribes on WTOP, but his double-barreled assault against a fundamental constitutional right is TOO MUCH.

I wonder what opinion Mr. King would have if say our DC Government decided to prohibit certain kinds of speech or religion in the district and in order to get statehood, Congress insisted that to get the right to vote, DC must allow ALL TYPES OF FREE SPEECH and ALL RELIGIONS? My sense is that old Colby would NOT be up in arms since Congress was forcing DC to accept the same laws that every other state practices in order to receive full voting rights in the House of Representatives. The same logic applies here.

Whether you like it or not Mr. King, the Supreme Court issued an opinion recently in Heller that for the first time in our nation's history BROADENS the protections afforded by the 2ND AMENDMENT and makes such a right a PERSONAL one that is NO DIFFERENT than the fundamental rights to free speech and religion guaranteed by the FIRST AMENDMENT. This is a convenient fact for you to avoid in your studiously ignorant editorial and the fact that you are misleading countless numbers of dimwits out there with your nonsense is sad and despicable.

There is simply no reason for law-abiding citizens of DC to be prohibited from purchasing weapons of any kind and to do so free from the anti-gun nuts (like you) fever of registering such guns or permitting DC to oversee out of state purchases (whatever the hell that means).

Your "twist the knife" analogy does not work since how can the DC council be trusted with anything when they have now proven that they will not respect the Constitution even after the Supreme Court practically wrote in the sky what it means.

You consistently twist the facts in your editorials to support your proclivities for prohibition and never miss a chance to miss the larger issue here which is for the people of DC to start pressuring their elected "leaders" to act like grown-ups and permit gun ownership without ridiculous and unconstitutional restrictions.

Lastly, I am old enough to remember Senator Mathias and your obvious ploy to make it seem like you are coming at this issue from an objective view based on your work with a former Republican is shameless.

It is truly sad Mr. King but the thing you fail to recognize is that the overwhelming majority of people in this country do not want the type of restrictive gun control legislation that your bleeding liberal heart lusts after. You are still drunk over the sham election that brought us your Messiah and fail to grasp that if you and your friends continue to push this issue (along with the push to re-enact the so called "assault weapon ban") your majority status will disappear faster than a free bowl of chili at Ben's.

Posted by: aaronburr94 | March 4, 2009 2:43 PM | Report abuse

In response to:


mdsinc, do you live in the district?

Granted, I live in NW, but I didn't realize my hometown was such a lawless, squalid hellhole. It's like Mad Max here! Apparently, guns aren't enough at this point - let's just give everyone flamethrowers!


Off and on for 30 years.

Ever been to GoodHope Road? South Capitol Street SE? Benning Road? K Street NE? 13th and Taylor Street NW?

Go ahead. Take Colby with you for a walkabout, oh say 2 AM on a Saturday morning. Let me know how it worked out for you.

Posted by: mdsinc | March 4, 2009 5:27 PM | Report abuse

Let's be very clear here about where D.C.'s crime guns come from. 97% (you read that right) come from outside states with far weaker gun laws than the District. It is the pathetic laws in these outside jurisdictions that criminals and traffickers routinely exploit to get guns, not the District's. And D.C. has no power to legislate or enforce laws in Virginia, Georgia, South Carolina, etc. The fact is that if these states adopted tough gun laws like the District, gun violence in our city (and the country in general) would be reduced dramatically.

D.C. residents - don't let the gun nuts in MD and VA fool you. The guns that kill our kids come from gun stores in their communities and they do nothing to stop it.

Posted by: gritsjr | March 5, 2009 9:12 AM | Report abuse

gritsjr said 97% of "DC's crime guns" come from "outside states with far weaker gun laws than the District."

To the extent that I can even understand your comment, please provide the basis for your figure. I know that you will not be able to provide a basis for your figure because it is demonstrably false.

Since when did citizens who can read and understand the Constitution and recent Supreme Court decisions become "gun nuts"? Your solution of imposing DC's same unconstitutional (and ridiculous) gun restrictions on other states is preposterous, absurd, and ILLEGAL.

News flash for you gritsjr: Your liberal philosophy of banning or keeping things away from people (in this case guns) to protect the "common good" is the same philosophy used by countries like Iran, Syria, North Korea, etc. to SUPPRESS LIBERTY.

What is truly sad is that you (and Colbert I King) have your heads so far up your ars that you fail to realize that the solution to DC's neverending crime problem is not more government control and restrictions on DC's citizens but less. FREEDOM to purchase weapons and defend yourself will ultimately lead to less crime. By making it almost impossible for law abiding citizens to possess firearms in DC you have provided an incentive for criminals to commit more crimes - b/c they know that DC citizens are not armed.

Just like the dimwit DC reps who stood on the street yesterday complaining about how Congress treated them unfairly on this issue, you fail to recognize that the PROBLEM is not the rest of the country, rather, the PROBLEM is the BACKWARD (AND IGNORANT) THINKING OF DC RESIDENTS WHO REFUSE TO LOOK IN THE MIRROR AND ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE PROBLEMS THAT PLAGUE OUR OWN STREETS.

It really is ironic that we have elected "leaders" in DC who blew a chance to have a vote in Congress because they refuse to abide by the Constitution. In other words, we want to be treated like a state, but we also want the right to ignore (and violate) a fundamental right guaranteed by the Bill of Rights (and confirmed by the Supreme Court).

Until we start acting like grown-ups and throw out the juvenile clowns who run this city, we do not deserve a vote in Congress.

Posted by: aaronburr94 | March 5, 2009 10:53 AM | Report abuse

in response to:


D.C. residents - don't let the gun nuts in MD and VA fool you. The guns that kill our kids come from gun stores in their communities and they do nothing to stop it.


More Brady Campaign Propaganda. Blaming others for your problems is typical of DC.

Hood Rats don't spend $800 for a Sig P229, nor do they spend $550 for a Glock 19. These are the going prices in gun shops. Even if you were to say that Straw Purchases occurred (rare) there is no way Thugs are going to pony up the $$$.

Maryland has much stricter Gun Laws than does Virginia in that each gun must have integral trigger locks. Many gun makers do not make models with those features. However, background NCIS checks, one gun per month, age limits, are an example of the laws in both Virginia and Maryland.

Your argument is invalid. Look to the former DC Police Chief Charles Ramsey for one source of guns in DC. His personal firearm was stolen, along with his patrol car and patrol rifle (M16). File an FOIA request with the MPD and ask for the report on how many Police Officers have reported their guns lost, missing or stolen. 100's? 1000's? Very many to be sure.

Posted by: mdsinc | March 5, 2009 10:57 AM | Report abuse

My favorite part of the circus on the steps of DC City Hall yesterday was the freak from the Brady Anti-Gun Lobby railing against "special interest groups" and the "gun lobby."

WHAT THE HELL IS THE "BRADY CAMPAIGN TO PREVENT GUN VIOLENCE"? Oh, that's right it is a special interest lobby group that advocates passing UNCONSTITUTIONAL AND RIDICULOUS ANTI-GUN MEASURES. These frauds care more about getting donations, lining their own pockets, and polishing their Mercedes', than they do about protecting the the law-abiding residents of our city.

The whack-jobs who work for Brady would like nothing more than to de-arm all of Washington, D.C. (and the entire nation) because in their view, we are all too stupid and irresponsible to own firearms.

WAKE UP DC RESIDENTS! The real scoundrels are the ones running the city and going out to fancy lunches and cocktail parties (on our dime) to further the totalitarian dreams of super left-wing nut jobs who want to keep you down and locked in your house with no way to defend yourself.

The only way to free DC of crime is to END the FAILED POLICIES of your elected DEMOCRAT LEADERS who despite death after death, shooting after shooting, day after day - FAIL TO GET IT.


We need an AnBar-like awakening, and we need it in DC AND NOW.

Posted by: aaronburr94 | March 5, 2009 12:37 PM | Report abuse

I live in the District of Columbia so clearly I have a right to comment here. gritsjr: 97 percent of gun crimes come from outside the District, duh, they would have to genius, since there is no gun store in the District. Where do the 3 percent come from? How about the hundreds of felons Barry hired as cops years ago without background checks? These are the folks who are supposed to protect us. MPD does the best job they can, but they have no duty to protect anyone. Violent crime happens in seconds. Assuming to live long enough to call 911, by the time the police get there the bad guy is long gone. Virtually every state in the union has some provision to allow law abiding citizens to carry a firearm, either openly or concealed. DC does not even allow me to carry my legally owned firearms on my own property outside my home. In fact DC law forbids me to fire at someone who may be commiting murder on my front porch. is that a common sense gun control or is that just plain stupid?

Posted by: glyon | March 5, 2009 3:08 PM | Report abuse

Historically, firearms prohibition laws were intended to keep guns out of the hands of racial and ethnic minorities. The feeling was that "lessor breeds" somehow lacked the ability to use firearms responsibly. DC's gun laws are no exception.

By a delicious irony, roughly the same folks who used to strive mightily to keep guns out of the hands of blacks now recognize the importance of guaranteeing the second amendment (and other) rights of everyone. In contrast, the black "leadership" now echos the old racist teaching that blacks are somehow different and must be protected from their own folly.

Posted by: sesquiculus | March 8, 2009 10:24 AM | Report abuse

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