Trigger-Happy on the Hill

Friday, July 25, 2008

DISTRICT residents are sadly accustomed to congressional interference in their affairs. Usually, the meddling comes in a bid to overturn local legislation. But a move to actually write a new gun law for the District represents a new low. Or, as Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) called it, "a special outrage."

Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) is pushing a measure that seeks to usurp efforts by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and the D.C. Council to comply with the Supreme Court ruling overturning the District's long-standing ban on handguns. Mr. Souder is resorting to a little-used parliamentary move to get to the floor a bill that would prevent the city from imposing such reasonable restrictions on firearms as requiring that they be registered. Mr. Souder, according to a report in the Hill newspaper, is getting a big assist from the National Rifle Association, which sees an election-year opportunity to pressure conservative Democrats. The NRA, in determining the grades it gives to individual lawmakers before the November election, will include whether they supported bringing H.R. 1399 to the floor.

It matters not a whit to Mr. Souder or the NRA that District residents have a right of self-governance. Once again, lawmakers are willing to impose on the District something they wouldn't contemplate for their home districts. Local officials -- not Congress -- are the best arbiters of their community's needs and priorities. What makes sense for Fort Wayne, Ind., doesn't necessarily translate to the streets of Washington, D.C. Ms. Norton underscored this point in telling members of her caucus how offended she is by Congress taking on a local gun matter when a city neighborhood has been shut down because of gun violence that took the life of a 13-year-old boy just days ago.

D.C. officials passed emergency legislation to bring local gun laws into compliance with the Supreme Court ruling. More work will be done before permanent legislation is enacted. Whether that legislation comports with the Supreme Court's decision is a matter for the courts to decide. It's just not any of Congress's business.


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