Congress to Vet D.C. Gun Laws

Posted June 27, 2008 at 4:47pm

While the Supreme Court ruled last week that the D.C. gun ban violates the Second Amendment rights of District citizens, new handgun laws in the nation’s capital will not be enacted until Congress examines them.

Although the Home Rule Act of 1973 minimized Congress’ role in governing the District, federal lawmakers still review the city’s laws before they are enacted and have the right to make changes.

The Supreme Court’s ruling, while nullifying the city’s gun ban, made clear that certain restrictions could still be enforced.

Stringent gun parameters are expected. The D.C. City Council has criticized the ruling and said it believes that lifting the ban will simply lead to more weapons on the street. And it is expected to consider imposing requirements such as trigger locks and mandatory gun safety classes.

“We have an obligation to [regulate] in a city that has always had a gun problem and will now have a greater gun problem,” D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said.

The question at hand: To what extent will Members who support gun rights oppose the strict regulations that both Mayor Adrian Fenty and Norton hope to put in place?

“I think that the minority will argue very strongly for the Supreme Court’s decision,” said Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), who chairs the Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, Postal Service and the District of Columbia. “We’ve seen some of that already.”

Several Republican Members who sit on Davis’ committee and the Senate’s equivalent, the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia, did not return phone calls or declined to comment on whether they will dispute any new regulations.

“It’s a hypothetical to talk about what might happen,” Frederick Hill, spokesman for Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) who sits on the subcommittee with jurisdiction over the District, wrote in an e-mail. “Right now, the District of Columbia has an opportunity to write laws that don’t infringe on Second Amendment rights.”

The gun ban won’t actually be eliminated until the high court issues a mandate to the lower court in about a month that will formalize the ruling.

Once the mandate is issued, the Court of Appeals will send the case to the District Court to enter an injunction, the court order that will ultimately outlaw the D.C. gun ban.

After a new D.C. gun law passes the City Council, it is presented to the House and Senate subcommittees with jurisdiction over D.C. for review.

The subcommittees will then have 30 days to consider the legislation and decide whether they would like to make any changes. If the subcommittees choose not to act on the legislation, it becomes law.

But in the event that the committee objects to the strictness of the regulations, subsequent hearings and markups may occur.

In the House, the subcommittee historically defers to Norton when making decisions regarding the District, although this doesn’t mean the minority will not express disagreement with the regulations.