Congress Tries To Blow Away D.C. Gun Law
This much is clear: The nonsense that Democrats peddle about being the party that will advance the cause of home rule and voting rights for the District of Columbia is nothing more than campaign blather. When push comes to shove, as it did today on the House floor, the Dems are perfectly happy to elbow Washingtonians out of the way.
Eighty-five Democrats joined with 181 Republicans to approve a bill that strips the District of its ability to write its own new gun laws in response to this summer's U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the D.C. ban on handgun possession.
Of course, Republicans aren't exactly stepping up to take on the battle for voting rights, either. Even Rep. Tom Davis, the Fairfax Republican who led the fight over the past few years to get a seat in the House for the District, voted for this bill, which proves once again that the little democracy the District does have is a mere show, a game Congress plays to give half a million Americans the illusion that they have some say in the governance of their own city. And while many Democrats who supported House Resolution 6842 may claim that they only did so because it's campaign season and they needed to protect themselves against the NRA and gun rights supporters in their home districts, Davis is a lame duck, not running for anything, totally free to vote his conscience. Which we have to assume he did today, showing his true colors after years of advocacy on behalf of D.C. voting rights.
[UPDATE, 7:30 p.m.: Davis spokesman Brian McNicoll argues that Davis's vote was not a violation of his prior support for D.C. home rule. McNicoll says the congressman had earlier supported an amendment to the bill that would have "preserved the right of the District to determine how it would go about complying with Heller," the Supreme Court ruling. But when the measure came to a floor vote without any such protections for home rule, Davis "felt the need - as did others - to send a message to the D.C. Council that this needs to be addressed as the court intended." McNicoll claims that Davis will get a demerit from the NRA for his vote at the committee level and that it's the Democrats' fault that the final bill went to the floor with such a strong anti-D.C. focus. Still--my editorializing here--when it came to that final vote, Davis turned against the cause he has fought so hard for over so many years.]
The local congressional delegation split largely by party and state on this measure. Northern Virginia's Republican House members--Davis, Frank Wolf and Rob Wittman--voted to strip the District of its right to regulate guns. The lone Democrat representing northern Virginia, Jim Moran of Alexandria, sided with the District, voting no. In suburban Maryland, the Democrats--Chris Van Hollen, Steny Hoyer, and Donna Edwards--all voted against the bill, as did Republican Wayne Gilchrest, who lost his seat in a primary earlier this year and, like Davis, is on his way out. Republican Roscoe Bartlett voted for the bill. The District, of course, has no vote in Congress.
One of the Democrats who led the battle to stuff the District even as the D.C. Council yesterday moved to ease its proposed restrictions on gun ownership, Rep. Travis Childers of Mississippi, put out a statement claiming that "I do not condone Washington, D.C.'s lack of congressional representation." Childers said he took this step only "to restore the rights of gun owners."
It's true that D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty and members of the D.C. Council initially reacted to the Supreme Court ruling by coming up with gun ownership regulations so onerous and restrictive that they were not only defying the court but daring gun rights advocates to sue them.
"I am pretty confident that the people of the District of Columbia want us to err in the direction of trying to restrict guns," Fenty told me on the day he announced the new gun rules in July. That day, he smiled broadly at the suggestion that what he was really trying to do was make it as hard as possible for Washingtonians to keep a loaded gun at home.
He's not smiling anymore. Yesterday, the Council hurried to ease those restrictions, allowing city residents to own semi-automatics and to keep weapons unlocked and loaded in their homes. But that wasn't enough for Congress, where the imperative was to send a message to the rest of the country that Washington would not be allowed to choose its own laws or follow the dictates of its own residents.
The folks at D.C. Vote, the voting rights advocacy group, commissioned a poll this week that found 69 percent of Americans opposed Congress stripping the District of its right to create its own gun laws. Even if the poll is spot on, those aren't the voters today's House vote was all about--no, this was about assuring reelection for Democrats and Republicans alike who feel threatened by the gun lobby and its supporters.
Fenty and company brought this on themselves with their arrogant attempt to turn around the Supreme Court decision. In all likelihood, the Senate won't get around to voting on today's House bill, so perhaps yesterday's revised D.C. gun laws will eventually stand. But in the meantime, even more damage has been done to the fragile concept of home rule.
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