GOP Jumps the Gun on D.C.’s Firearms Legislation

Posted July 25, 2008 at 6:09pm

House Republicans want to repeal D.C.’s gun laws — despite the fact that the city doesn’t yet have permanent laws in place.

Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) has filed a discharge petition for a bill he introduced months ago, which would gut D.C. gun laws and prohibit the city from passing laws that “discourage or eliminate the private ownership or use of firearms.”

It would also eliminate gun registration and remove criminal penalties for possessing unregistered guns.

If Souder’s petition gets 218 signatures, the bill would bypass the Rules Committee and be placed on the House calendar. So far, 109 House Republicans have signed the petition, while his bill has 248 co-sponsors.

The bill was originally a response to the city’s stiff gun laws, which prohibited the ownership of handguns and required residents to keep other firearms dismantled in their homes.

But last month, the Supreme Court ruled that the city’s regulations — the stiffest in the country — were unconstitutional. Soon after, the D.C. Council passed “emergency legislation” to temporarily allow residents to register handguns.

But that legislation, which lasts for only 90 days, is still too restrictive, Souder spokesman Martin Green said.

“I think it was expected that the District council would adhere to the Supreme Court decision, but they haven’t shown an interest in doing that,” he said. “It’s clear Congressional action is necessary here to uphold the rights of residents.”

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) argues that it’s unreasonable to overturn laws before the D.C. Council writes permanent restrictions.

“The bill isn’t even written yet. Why would Members of Congress want to intervene into an ongoing legislative process?” she said.

The council is expected to write permanent legislation after its August recess. Councilmembers passed the emergency regulations to allow gun registration while they were in recess — and the council is certain to make some changes to the law, Norton said.

Still, the council is expected to impose stringent regulations, which are already reflected in the emergency legislation. Handguns are allowed only for self-defense, for example.

“People may disagree with us,” Norton said. “But I should think the mayor and City Council are due the respect of waiting until pen leaves paper.”

Souder’s bill, however, seems to have wide Republican support. Among those who have signed the discharge petition are Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.).

What’s missing is Democratic support, and Souder’s unlikely to get it. Norton is taking no chances, however; she has already spoken to the Democratic Caucus.

D.C. activists are also fighting against the effort.

Several groups, including the DC Republican Committee, plan to write a letter to Members and spread word of the effort to the constituents of those Republicans who support the bill, said Ilir Zherka, executive director of DC Vote, a group that fights to get the District a voting seat in the House.

The constitutionality of gun laws should be left up to the courts to decide, Zherka said. Now that the Supreme Court has made its decision, the local government should be able to write its laws to comply — just like every other city in the nation, he said.

“In this case, a group of individuals are trying to do in the nation’s capital what they know they cannot do nationally, what they know they cannot do in their own district. Which is to dictate the local gun laws,” he said.

Technically, Congress does have more power over D.C. than it does over other cities. Congress has 30 days to consider whether to make changes to every law the D.C. Council passes — meaning it could change any permanent gun laws the D.C. Council eventually passes. Congress also approves the city’s budget.

“It’s that kind of abuse of power — the idea that we have the power therefore we ought to use it — that has marked the relationship between the District of Columbia and Congress,” Zherka said. “It really has to come to an end.”