House Passes Bill to Liberalize D.C. Gun Laws

Posted September 17, 2008 at 12:48pm

The House passed legislation Wednesday, 266-152, that would upend most of the District of Columbia’s stringent gun laws.

“The District of Columbia doesn’t have the right to thumb its nose at a Supreme Court decision,” Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) said after the vote. “What they did by the City Council ruling is say that they think that they’re above the law and that they don’t have to abide by the Second Amendment.”

Altmire is one of 130 co-sponsors of legislation offered by freshman Rep. Travis Childers (D-Miss.) that 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.

There has long been tension between Congress and the District over the city’s tight gun laws. In June, the Supreme Court ruled that the District’s 32-year-old ban on handguns was unconstitutional.

Contending 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 districts with many gun owners. The National Rifle Association joined the campaign as well.

The House bill passed a day after the D.C. Council approved legislation that lifts many of the city’s regulations including the ban on semiautomatic weapons and allows Washingtonians to keep handguns loaded and unlocked in their homes. The legislation was signed by the mayor and will take effect immediately.

“I’m happy to hear that the D.C. Council and the mayor have now proposed changes to D.C. gun laws that will begin to bring the District into compliance with the Supreme Court decision,” Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) said on the floor Tuesday night. “I commend them for it. It came, regrettably, too late.”

While the Childers legislation passed the House, it seems unlikely to be considered in the Senate before that chamber recesses at the end of the month.

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who has repeatedly expressed her outrage over the House’s interference in a District matter, said she has spoken to several Senators who have agreed to block the bill.