The House approved a non-binding measure late Thursday night calling for active-duty military personnel to be exempt from the District’s gun laws, the latest in a series of issues that have divided Congress and local leaders.
The “Sense of Congress” resolution — offered by Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) as an amendment to the massive Defense authorization bill — has no force of law and passed by voice vote, without a roll call. But it still drew a harsh response from Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who was already smarting from being denied the chance to testify Thursday at a hearing on a measure that would ban late-term abortions in the District.
“If Representative Gingrey believes that active duty military personnel should be exempt from federal or state or local firearms laws, why did he not offer an amendment that would apply nationwide?” Norton asked on the House floor Thursday night. “Perhaps he did not offer such an amendment for the same reason that the Republican sponsor of the bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks in the District of Columbia did not introduce a 20-week bill that would apply nationwide, either. They pick on D.C. because they think they can.”
Gingrey spokeswoman Jen Talaber responded by pointing out that the Constitution “specifically gives Congress the power to ‘exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases, whatsoever’ over the District of Columbia. To suggest this amendment was intended to bully D.C. rather than provide relief for the 40,000 active duty military personnel who reside within D.C.’s borders is to miss the point entirely.”
Talaber also noted that Norton could have demanded a roll call on the amendment, but instead chose to let it pass by voice vote.
Gingrey’s amendment says that “active-duty military personnel who are stationed or residing in the District of Columbia should be permitted to exercise fully their rights under the Second Amendment of the Constitution” and so should be exempt from the city’s gun laws, which have long been criticized by supporters of gun rights.
“This is something I’ve thought about for a long time,” Gingrey said in an interview earlier this week, adding that he had not been inspired to offer the measure by the National Rifle Association or any other group.
Though Gingrey said he was not motivated by any particular incident, his office highlighted a report in the Washington Times earlier this week about a wounded Afghanistan veteran who was arrested in 2010 and ended up pleading guilty to a misdemeanor firearms charge because he had guns in the trunk of his car.
Gingrey’s amendment is non-binding, but District officials are constantly on alert because gun-rights advocates in Congress and the National Rifle Association have tried before to move bills that would eliminate most of the city’s restrictions. In 2009, Democratic leaders had to abandon an advanced effort to grant Norton voting rights on the House floor because a bipartisan group of lawmakers vowed to attach gun language to the legislation.
Last year, the House Judiciary Committee rejected an amendment that would have given people with concealed-carry permits issued by any state the right to have concealed weapons in the District.