Gun Fight Fizzles

Posted July 9, 2008 at 6:48pm

House Democrats, sidestepping a potentially divisive vote on guns, inserted pro-Second Amendment language in a public housing bill that passed by voice vote Wednesday.

The language echoes an amendment offered by the GOP earlier this year that forced Democratic leaders to pull the underlying bill from the floor. It also suggests the extent to which party leaders will go to avoid taking an up-or-down vote on a sensitive issue that splits their Caucus.

In late February, Democrats were forced to pull a public housing reauthorization bill off the floor after Republicans offered a motion to recommit that would have effectively prohibited public housing authorities nationwide from banning firearms.

At the time, Democrats say, the legislation was postponed because the amendment would have forced the bill back to committee, rather than to a final vote on the floor — and not because it would have required an up-or-down vote directly related to guns.

But as part of the Asset Management Improvement Act considered under suspension and passed by voice vote, an administrative provision in the bill takes direct aim at the issue of guns in public housing in language that mimics the earlier GOP motion.

The bill’s main purpose was to improve the public housing operating fund at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The bill also states that the HUD secretary “shall not accept as reasonable any management or related fees for enforcing any provision of a dwelling lease agreement or other similar agreement that requires the registration of or prohibits the possession of any firearm that is possessed by an individual for his or her personal protection or for sport the possession of which is not prohibited, or the registration of which is not required, by existing law.”

Also this week, Democrats passed a Second Amendment-related amendment offered during the Rules Committee proceedings on the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail Designation Act. They took the amendment, offered by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), revised it and then made it self-executing so that no floor vote would be required on the measure.

Bishop said he routinely offers the generic language, which gives a nod to Second Amendment rights, on public lands-related bills.

The final amendment language for the Washington-Rochambeau bill states that all designated lands within the trail, including federal land, shall be governed by state hunting and fishing laws.

Bishop said language related to use of firearms for self-defense contained in his original amendment was deleted in the revised version that was approved.

“I can shoot a moose if I’m hunting, but I can’t shoot the moose if it attacks me,” he said.

Bishop said this isn’t the first time his amendment has been co-opted by Democrats. Earlier this year, he said, his amendment to another public lands bill was taken and offered under the name of Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.), whom Bishop said got credit for it under the National Rifle Association scoring system.

“There’s a whole lot of things they don’t want to vote on,” Bishop said of the creative ways that Democrats have gotten around taking gun votes.

Following the Supreme Court decision late last month that the Washington, D.C., handgun ban is unconstitutional, Second Amendment issues are expected to play a more prominent role.

A Democratic leadership aide argued that they simply are not looking to play political games with the gun issue.

“In contrast to Republicans, Democrats will not bring up divisive, wedge-issue votes just to score political points,” the aide said.

Still, Republicans charged that Democrats are purposely shying away from the politically difficult issue.

“The Democrats for months have been trying to shield their Members from taking a vote on the right to bear arms,” said Antonia Ferrier, a spokeswoman for House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo). “They clearly will do anything to run away from a real debate and real vote on guns. But they can’t hide from the American people who support the Second Amendment.”