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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

By Marc Fisher |  September 9, 2008; 8:10 AM ET
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

And thats why you all in DC do not deserve the home rule you have. Its ignorant white liberals like you marc making a decision for the majority of DC residents because in typical liberal fashion you think you are smarter and therefore know best. Fenty and his fellow communists should have come up with rules that met the intent of the Supreme Court decision and not been sore losers.

DC gun laws have not made the street safer.
DCPD needs to get off their butts and do what they are paid to do.

DC should have reciprocity with VA allowing those of us CCW permits to carry concealed in DC!

Posted by: Anonymous | September 9, 2008 9:16 AM

Well, according to the Post's report on the congressional legislation, the bill would "allow District residents to purchase guns in Virginia and Maryland." Why bother with the zoning regulations if this is the case?

Posted by: NoVAHockey | September 9, 2008 9:27 AM

A Marc Fisher post on gun control. Oh boy, here we go again...

Posted by: Anonymous | September 9, 2008 9:34 AM

I think it is ironic that Fisher and the D.C. pols think that the alleged public opinion against gun ownership is more important than the Supreme Court ruling. I remember in the 1950s when Southern states disobeyed civil rights rulings by the courts because public opinion in their states supported segregation.

Posted by: Cleveland Brown | September 9, 2008 9:34 AM

I don't understand why the DC Government feels they are above the law in this matter.

And I also don't understand why Marc Fisher feels the law should not apply to DC either.

Then again, if Marc Fisher and the DC Government feel laws should not be obeyed, they have achieved that level of success already in DC.

Govern by example. It has been accomplished in DC, with help from the WaPo hacks.

Posted by: DC Voter | September 9, 2008 9:38 AM

Marc - The D.C. zoning rules will be irrelevant if the House bill is enacted. The bill will allow D.C. residents to buy handguns in Maryland and Virginia. Under federal law people are already allowed to buy shotguns and rifles in other states.

Posted by: fundage | September 9, 2008 9:39 AM

This is why I live in the fine state of Virginia and not the Federal District of Columbia, whose residents are taxed out the ear without representation. Was it PT Barnum or Marion Barry who said a foolish DC resident and their money are soon parted.

Posted by: Sic Semper Tyrannis | September 9, 2008 9:40 AM

Hey Marc, please explain to me why MD and VA have lower crime rates than DC but have looser gun laws?

Yeah, that gun ban worked great, let me tell you. When you disarm the honest, only the criminals have guns.

Posted by: Liz | September 9, 2008 10:23 AM

Fisher once again uses the far-left talking point bugaboo of "military-style semi-automatic weapons." If a criminal is shooting at you, will you really care if the gun has a bayonet lug or pistol grip? Are you saying you will *feel* better knowing that the gun only has a wooden stock while you are being shot? Are you trying to tell us that you prefer one-shot-one-kill accurate aimed fire over "spray and pray" thug marksmanship (that doesn't work)?

Posted by: K-Romulus | September 9, 2008 10:38 AM

Here is the letter I faxed today to Congressman Childers, the sponsor of the bill, with a cc to Nancy Plosi, Harry Reid, and Henry Waxman. I urge others to do the same. It is time to stand up in DC and claim our rights. Give us our rights, DC, or stand out of the way. And for those in the states -- why aren't you standing up for us, too? Please tell your congressman and senator to support this bill and support the Constitutional Rights of all citizens, not just those who live in the states.


September 9, 2008

The Honorable Travis Childers
Washington D.C. Office
2350 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515
p. (202) 225-4306
f. (202) 225-3549

Dear Congressman Childers,

As a longtime resident and homeowner in Washington, DC, living on Capitol Hill, I am pleased to read of the bill you have introduced to affirm the rights of DC citizens to legally own firearms without the rigorous and unfair regulations imposed by our city government. I have in past months written to Council and Mayor Fenty as a citizen with my views on changes needed to the DC gun registration laws, and especially of their response to the recent Supreme Court decision, and have noted that their reply is obstructionist and patronizing. It is time for Congress to act.

It is not up to the DC government to decide which Constitutional rights the citizens of this city hold, that is a matter of decision of the Supreme Court. It would not be acceptable for the city or any individual to deny any Constitutional right from our citizens, and this 2nd Amendment right should be no different. This has nothing to do with Home Rule, it has to do with fundamental rights of citizens in the United States.

The presumption by the DC Government that we as citizens will be lawbreakers if we own guns is unlawful and offensive. If DC can not conduct gun registration fairly, as it has demonstrated for so many decades, then it should give up registration and let citizens have their rights. I believe your bill will establish that more firmly.

I have been a law-abiding citizen all of my life, a hardworking taxpayer since the age of 15, and now at 58, as a lifelong Democrat when it comes to the voting booth, I am pleased to see the Democratic party waking up on this issue. It is important and has been ignored for far too long. This has nothing to do with the NRA, for which I am not a member, but I am a hunter and have been since my youth. This is a civil rights issue. A right to the same protection against crime in the home as held by fellow citizens in the states.

Please press your fellow members of the House of Representatives to pass this legislation, and please press the Senate to also affirm this important measure.

Posted by: DWW | September 9, 2008 10:39 AM

Well, the city government rightly deserves this stomping-on. They are blatantly ignoring the Heller decision from the Supreme Court and once again attempting to impose an unconstitutional regime of overly-restrictive gun control on the citizens of the District. If these two lawyers (Fenty and Nickles) would bother to pull their heads out of their butts and read the decision properly they'd know that the proposed District legislation and regs would never fly in light of that decision. And, if they'd had an ounce of political sense, they'd have known that it was a done deal that Congress would step in on such a controversial no-brainer for most of the country in an election year. This was a dumb decision on the part of the District government, and now we're reaping the benefits of this foolishness by having Congress rightly step in and correct their unconstitutional actions. The DC politicos have no one to blame but themselves.

Posted by: Moose | September 9, 2008 10:47 AM

Best weapon for home defense is a shotgun.
All you have to is fire it about hip level down th ahll and it will clear it with little collateral damage. Most folks to Fed, state and local law enforcement cant hit the squat with a handgun.

Problem is lazy cops in DC who want the easy way out make it difficult for law abiding citizens to purchase fire arms. That way we have less work since the chances of one them blowing away a perp is now remote. Less paperwork rules the day.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 9, 2008 10:49 AM

Isn't this just typical of blacks and liberals? Blacks are so unwilling to accept responsibility for their own actions. We blame everyone but ourselves for our problems. Guns. Drugs. Public Schools. Police. Racism.

Most of our problems are self inflicted. Yet, we blame the white man and the aforementioned objects instead of looking within. You will never solve a problem if you can not admit you have a problem.

Posted by: Nathan | September 9, 2008 11:59 AM

The zoning process will not matter if the currrent bill passes. This bill has a provision to allow DC residents to purchase firearms in Maryland and Virginia.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 9, 2008 12:18 PM


As a citizen of the US who pays federal income tax but does not have representation it is essential that you protect our 2nd amendment rights in DC.

Then as DC residents we can load up and revolt against a government that is taking away our fundamental American rights to democracy.

Viva la revolution!

And yes I have applied for gun ownership and I plan to blow the crap out of anyone from Virginia who comes within 10 feet of my house.

Posted by: Southeasterner | September 9, 2008 12:58 PM

As I've pointed out in a comment to a previous post of yours, Marc, DC is like a small child. Congress gives it more responsibility when it proves that it can handle the responsibility that it already has.

Put differently, D.C. has no *right* to home rule. Rather, it must earn it. The D.C. Council's thumbing its collective nose at the Constitution by enacting the precise type of regulations that the Supreme Court had declared unconstitutional was a regrettable step backwards for D.C.

Maybe some day, D.C. will grow up and act like an adult, and Congress will stop interfering. Including by abandoning any misguided attempt to zone gun businesses out of the city. Until then, I think businesses in Virginia and Maryland would be more than happy to satisfy the demands of D.C.'s lawful residents, at D.C.'s expense.

Posted by: JoeSchmoe | September 9, 2008 1:34 PM

No right to home rule? have to earn it?

I can just imagine how well that would go over if we tried it on some of those basket-case states.....

Posted by: Birdie | September 9, 2008 1:43 PM

The gun ban issue highlights why DC is a federal city.

Citizens from across country come to do govt. business here - it is ridiculous that a handful of local nimrods can pass laws that violate their civil rights.

Congress should enact legislation that will prevent any DC gun laws above and beyond current federal law.

Posted by: Paul | September 9, 2008 1:54 PM

I get tired of hearing all about how Congress is trampling over the poor District of Columbia. Marc, you should really re-read Article I, sec. 8, of the Constitution, which grants Congress the power "To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of Particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States[.]" In other words, Congress has plenary power over the District, and what home rule it does have is entirely at the pleasure of Congress. So, if the District does something as stupid as defying a Supreme Court decision, no one should be surprised if Congress steps in within the bounds of the lawful authority over the District that it has retained. Unfair you say? Maybe. But if you don't like it there are basically two options: (1) ask for a Constitutional amendment, or; (2) if you're a D.C. resident, move to Maryland or Virginia.

Posted by: Cthseguy | September 9, 2008 2:31 PM

Sigh! I can see the level of vitriol on both side of this issue is going to make Huricane Ike look like a walk in the park.

My two cents, the government in DC is being foolish in trying to make a go-around on the Heller decision, and the Congressmen sponsoring this bill are using it as an empty gesture just before elections in an effort to shore up their credentials with a particular constituency, namely the gun lobby.

Let's be honest, none of the other states, which also have particularly crazy laws and their fair share of nimrods in positions can be overruled by Congress. Only the District of Columbia because of its peculiar status. When a Congressman or Senator wants to use a bete noire for XYZ policy or an unwilling subject for a social experiment, why not use the District?

There are some things that are sensible in the law and it would behoove the District authorities to adopt, such as the allowance of guns bought outside DC to be registered in the city and lifting the gun lock provision, provided some allowance is made about children and gun safety. Of course, the sensible parts of the proposal will be lost in all the hoopla between a Second Amendment statement and DC Home Rule.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 9, 2008 2:58 PM

"No right to home rule? have to earn it?

I can just imagine how well that would go over if we tried it on some of those basket-case states....."

Actually it WAS applied to all but 9 states. Every territory had to prove it was worthy before gaining statehood and 4 or the original 13 had to do so as part of reconstruction. NO territory as disfunctional as DC ever gained statehood (although a few like Michigan slid backwards afterwards). The most common requirement impossed on the territories was effective law enforcement and honest government. DC has a LONG way to go.

Posted by: Woodbridge VA | September 9, 2008 2:59 PM

Thank God for the NRA and the U.S. Congress. DC politicians will never learn and need to be required to recite the Constitution at the budget hearings regarding the exclusive authority of Congress to represent the citizens of this country and make decisions/laws regarding the District of Columbia.

Posted by: bill | September 9, 2008 4:22 PM

Hey DC Voter,

The liberals in Atlanta also think they are above the law. A new law went into effect July 1 which permits citizens with a license to carry to carry on public transportation. This includes the un-secured parts of the airport (just like 40+ other states).

The Atlanta mayor and the head of the airport, both far-left liberals, decided they weren't going to follow the law. Of course.

They have been sued in federal court by a local gun-rights group, The liberals will lose.

BTW, the mayor of Atlanta did the same thing not too long ago by essentially stating that she was above the law and would not obey a new law that allows citizens with a license to carry to carry in state parks. She was sued and lost :)

Gun Free Zone - Get Yours Today!

Posted by: Guns Save Lives | September 9, 2008 5:32 PM

Question: What's a "military style assault rifle"?

Answer: It's whatever you want it to be, because the meaning is entirely arbitrary and made up.

Posted by: | September 10, 2008 12:56 AM

congress has no right to make dc a gun free zone!the suprme court has all ready ruled on it!

Posted by: Anonymous | September 10, 2008 11:39 AM

As a native & current DC resident, I opposed the Supreme Court's ruling on this matter but have accepted it as law. However, the Supreme Court also allowed for local governments to enact reasonable limitations. Just like we're still trying to find the "bottom" of the housing market, the DC Council is trying to find the limits of "reasonable." We're not the only place to require trigger locks. We're not the only place to limit semi autos. This is not a racial or even liberal issue. This is a natural process that comes after a Supreme Court ruling comes down. I volunteer on economic development issues on Georgia Ave. I don't think I want gun stores there. If they limit gun shops to heavy commercial or industrial areas like many jurisdictions, that would be perfectly fine with me.

Posted by: DC Voter | September 10, 2008 4:28 PM

Ohhh, my. Marc you are a poster child to keep the District under Congressional thumb.

I am a Democrat, and I don't see this as a "partisan" debate. It is all about the Constitution and now the Supreme Court, both of which the local government is turning it's back on.

Newsflash, Mark

NO state, much less, city, can overrule a superme court decision without the feds intervening.

Posted by: Ward6ForNow | September 15, 2008 12:57 PM

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