D.C. Gun Battle: Congress Vs. Zoning
What was that business about the Supreme Court having the last word?
The Supremes' decision ending the District's three-decade experiment with banning handguns appears to have created a bonanza for new gun laws and the politicians and lobbyists who write them.
Even as the D.C. government moves to place such strict limits on the city's new gun freedom as to render the court's decision largely moot, Congress is stepping in to try to prevent the District from taking any steps that might push back at the Supreme Court ruling.
This week, as Congress makes a cameo reappearance before adjourning again for the fall campaign season, the House is expected to move quickly to try to slam the door shut on Mayor Adrian Fenty and Attorney General Peter Nickles' efforts to maintain a ban on many of the handgun uses that are permitted in the rest of the country.
Most House Republicans and more than 50 House Democrats have joined in support of a bill that would once again stomp all over D.C. home rule by declaring that the District is "unduly restricting lawful handgun possession" and concluding that "legislation is required to correct the District of Columbia's law." How the congressfolk--some of whom pretend to be in favor of D.C. voting rights--justify laughing in the general direction of lawmaking by duly elected local officials may seem hard to fathom, but hey, that's what Congress does for its entertainment. Whether it's needle exchanges, taxi fare systems or gun rights, whenever members of Congress want to send a message back home by taking a tough stand that won't have the slightest impact on their own constituents, they play with the District.
The bill on the Hill would completely undermine Fenty's efforts, forcing the city to allow military-style semi-automatic weapons, preventing the city from discouraging gun ownership, even repealing the city's ban on gun ownership by those under the age of 21. There would be no gun registration rules, no requirements that guns be kept locked up.
But the city has a secret weapon with which it will attempt to return fire. Sure, the city is already being sued over its effort to limit the impact of the Supreme Court decision. And after a long, expensive fight, the city is likely to lose that one too. But the District's other tool may prove harder for the feds to combat: The zoning process.
The arcane, byzantine zoning system can and is being used to determine where and when gun dealers might set up business in the city, and with enough clever work, the city hopes to be able to stop just about any legal gun trade from taking place within its boundaries. The city is to hold hearings Sept. 29 on a proposed set of zoning rules that would make permanent the emergency restrictions that the city imposed in July. These rules essentially limit any gun sales so severely that you'd have to be a world-champion zoning lawyer to find a sliver of land on which you could open a gun shop--and even then you'd need to get special permission from the city.
In theory, Congress could put those regulations through the federal shredder too, and perhaps it will come to that someday, but the District can keep this game going for quite some time. In a death match between the lords of the Hill and the professional "No"-sayers of the D.C. government, my money's on the District bureaucrats. Just think of all the times you needed something from a D.C. employee and you got that unique "Try to make me" empty stare in return. This one's going to be a whole lot of fun to watch.
Today at noon--or anytime thereafter--Raw Fisher Radio presents a look inside the presidential race in Virginia, which has suddenly emerged as a potential swing state. With both the Obama and McCain campaigns pouring money, staff and candidate visits into the commonwealth, we talk with Democratic strategist Mudcat Saunders--the Roanoke campaign guru who helped mold Mark Warner's approach in his governor's race--and Republican strategist Diana Banister, a delegate to last week's convention who has been a consultant and political director for the Bob Dole and Pat Buchanan presidential campaigns. Please join me at washingtonpost.com/rawfisherradio
By Marc Fisher |
September 9, 2008; 8:10 AM ET
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