D.C. Advocates Fear Gun Amendment on Budget

Posted July 6, 2009 at 6:19pm

Washington, D.C., residents and gun safety advocates went door to door on Capitol Hill on Monday, lobbying against rumored efforts to attach a controversial gun amendment to the city’s budget.

The House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to consider the D.C. budget Tuesday night, and Republicans are expected to offer a slew of amendments to limit city spending on such controversial issues as abortion and needle exchange programs.

So far, no Member has announced plans to offer an amendment that would change D.C.’s gun laws. But D.C. advocacy groups are nonetheless worried that pro-gun Members could try to attach a provision similar to the one that has stalled the D.C. House Voting Rights Act.

“Really what we’re doing is proactive,— said Ladd Everitt, spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “We do not have any specific knowledge of anything. There’s just general rumblings.—

The District’s budget must be approved by Congress, and Members often use the opportunity to slip in restrictions. For example, in recent years Congress has banned the city from holding a referendum on medical marijuana and from using funds on needle exchange programs.

The Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services approved a bill last month that ends those bans, and Republicans will most likely try to reinsert them at Tuesday’s full committee markup.

But it’s the possibility of a gun amendment that most concerns D.C. officials. Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) sent a letter last week to subcommittee Chairman José Serrano (D-N.Y.) asking for a bill “without additional provisions that restrict the District’s basic right to self-determination.—

“Specifically, I ask that you and your colleagues reject any amendments to this year’s bill that attempt to weaken or replace the District’s laws governing the ownership and use of firearms,— Fenty wrote.

DC Vote also joined the pre-emptive fight, visiting Congressional offices and urging the group’s members to pressure Congress. The group has repeatedly fought against such efforts since Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) successfully attached a gun amendment to the Senate’s version of the D.C. House Voting Rights Act.

The bill — which would give D.C. its first-ever voting Representative — recently stalled in the House. Supporters decided to temporarily shelve the bill to avoid an overhaul of the city’s gun restrictions.

The D.C. budget, however, is a must-pass bill, and some residents worry that pressure from the National Rifle Association means passage of a gun amendment is possible.

DC Vote Executive Director Ilir Zherka said in a statement that there was a “real possibility— that the NRA would pressure Members to add a gun amendment. But by the end of the day on Monday, DC Vote officials said they hadn’t found any such efforts.

“We do not know if it will be offered,— said Eugene Kinlow, DC Vote’s public affairs director. “There was nothing in the meetings we took with Republicans or Democrats that indicated that the NRA was making a move.—

But, he said, the powerful gun lobby has proved to be “prepared beyond expectations in a lot of situations.—

“We just wanted to make sure we were ahead of the curve if that’s even possible,— he said.

Kinlow and Everitt said they also tried to pre-empt any arguments for a gun amendment, emphasizing the fact that D.C. has enacted new gun laws since a 2008 Supreme Court ruling overturned the city’s gun laws at the time.

“We’re just trying to distribute information and make sure folks are educated on the issue,— Everitt said. “The provisions [D.C. officials] have now enacted have been enacted by many, many states throughout the country.—