Full House Takes Up D.C. Gun Debate

Posted September 16, 2008 at 6:36pm

Debate over the District of Columbia’s gun laws began on the House floor on Tuesday as Members clashed over two pieces of legislation that would regulate the weapons in very different ways.

Legislation offered by D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), which passed out of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last week, would require the D.C. Council to compose rules regulating guns in the city within 180 days of enactment.

This bill has been upended by Congressional legislation being offered as a substitute amendment by freshman Rep. Travis Childers (D-Miss.) and strongly supported by the National Rifle Association.

The amendment would permit relatively unrestricted gun regulations in Washington, including assault rifles such as AK 47s, and loosen many of the gun safety measures enacted in emergency legislation by the city council earlier this summer.

While the Childers’ amendment was poised to pass after press time Tuesday, the bill is considered unlikely to make it through the Senate before its target adjournment date of the end of the month.

Behind the discussion of trigger locks and semi-automatic rifles, however, lies the larger issue of whether the District should be allowed to make its own laws.

There has long been contention over the District’s gun laws, which were brought into the spotlight after a June Supreme Court ruling lifted at 32-year-old ban on handguns.

Claiming that the District’s emergency legislation that followed the court ruling was too stringent, Childers introduced his bill and soon found bipartisan support, particularly from Democrats in gun-toting districts.

Norton has repeatedly expressed her anger over the Congressional intervention; in fact, the D.C. Council met this week to work on its own gun legislation — legislation that can be overwritten at Congress’ will.

“The public lie that’s being pandered here is that [intervention is] necessary because the District isn’t complying,” Norton said. “Today they are voting,” she said, referring to the council vote Tuesday.

While home rule does give the city the right to govern itself, all laws enacted by the council must come through the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Typically legislation is unchanged, but because the District proposed stringent gun regulations that involved requiring that residents keep guns unassembled and in their homes, certain pro-gun Members have intervened.

“In theory, the result of this ruling should have simply allowed Washington, D.C., residents to have the same Second Amendment rights as the rest of the country,” Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) said. “But unfortunately the D.C. City Council chose to pass an ordinance that infringes on rights … that are constitutionally protected.”