Scarce Prospects for Senate Shooting Down D.C. Gun Control

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., and Metropolitan Police Department Assistant Chief Alfred Durham, prepare for a news conference in Rayburn on a House passed amendment by Rep. Thomas Massie's, R-Ky., that would "block D.C. from enforcing its local gun laws, as part of the Fiscal Year 2015 Financial Services and General Services Appropriations bill," July 17, 2014. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., is optimistic about Senate support for an appropriations rider that would dismantle local gun laws in the District of Columbia, but he doubts the chamber will consider the measure.  

“Twenty rank-and-file Democrats in the House voted for the amendment, and I know Democrats in the Senate would vote for the amendment," Massie said in an email to CQ Roll Call. "But I suspect that Harry Reid will do everything he can to prevent that vote from happening.”  

The Senate majority leader's office did not respond to questions about Massie's pro-gun proposal, which would make D.C. perhaps the most permissive jurisdiction in the nation. Neither did some of the vulnerable red-state Democratic senators on the Appropriations Committee who are up for re-election in November — Alaska's Mark Begich and Louisiana's Mary L. Landrieu — who have also advocated greater autonomy for the District. Massie's amendment would likely have a Senate sponsor in Kentucky Republican Rand Paul — if a Financial Services Appropriations bill with such language makes it to the floor.  

"Yes, if given the opportunity," Paul spokesman Brian Darling told CQ Roll Call in response to a question about support for language that would wipe out local gun laws in the District and instead make D.C. subject only to federal firearm restrictions. Darling said the "big question" is whether the Senate will take up the legislation with the appropriations process stalled in the chamber and whether senators would be allowed to offer amendments.  

When Paul introduced an amendment to the now-dead sportsmen's bill that would have altered D.C. gun laws, home-rule advocates called the libertarian a hypocrite for not allowing locally elected officials to write their own gun laws. Darling indicated Paul believes very strongly in the Bill of Rights and that no state or the District of Columbia should trample on a citizen's Second Amendment rights.  

The Constitution "is the highest law of the land," Darling said in response to the criticism.  

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., fired back with a statement that accused Paul of acting "inconsistently with his tea-party, states’ rights, libertarian principles when it comes to the local laws of the District government.”  

Massie also likes to refer questions to the Constitution. He pulled out a pocket-sized copy of the document during an interview with CQ Roll Call when asked to respond to opponents' gripes that he has not been elected by the residents of the District to write local legislation.  

"Actually, I am directly elected to do this," Massie said, flipping through the pages of the tiny red book until he found article I, section 8, clause 17, which gives Congress the authority to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever over D.C. He said "435 members of Congress have not just the authority, but the duty to look out for the rights of the people of the District of Columbia."  

Massie said he would rather offer pro-gun legislation that affected the country, not just Washington, but because he doesn't get to pick which bills come to the floor, the best he could do is offer amendments to what is being considered.  

"This was an opportunity to restore gun rights to a small segment of the population," he explained, "and an opportunity for people to weigh in on their position on the right to keep and bear arms."  

The District of Columbia isn't taking the House vote to loosen its gun laws lightly. On Thursday, the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department sent its assistant chief to Capitol Hill to talk about the "clear and present danger" posed by the congressional effort to dismantle the city's gun laws.  

"To allow individuals to bring guns into this city ... that puts our police officers, our public safety officials at a dilemma," said MPD Assistant Chief Alfred Durham during the news conference. "It creates fear, it will create fear and havoc in the community. There's no secret since 2001 that the District of Columbia has always been a target for both international terrorism and domestic terrorists. We can't have that."  

Massie crashed the event, standing silently near reporters and TV cameras as Mayor Vincent Gray talked about how violent crime had fallen by 13 percent, and robberies were down by 24 percent in the city compared to the same period last year.  

When asked about the gun rider, Sen. Richard C. Shelby, ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, said he hadn't had a chance to look at it but supported its goal. "Generally, where you have strict gun restrictions, it's high crime," Shelby said. "Where you have a lot of guns with people, easy to own, fewer crimes."  

By contrast, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.,  a former mayor and governor, who has signed on as a co-sponsor of a bill that would make the District the 51st state, said the federal government should not try to "micromanage" the affairs of a local, independently elected city council and executive.  

"Almost regardless of what the issue is, I don't think they should be doing that in appropriations riders," he said. "Whether it's guns or a whole series of things, they ought to just appropriate funds and let D.C. citizens and their elected representatives decide how to manage municipal government."