House Bill Would End D.C. Registration Rules

By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 30, 2008

D.C. officials are trying to beat back an effort by some lawmakers to send a bill to the House floor that would dramatically weaken the city's gun laws.

The gun bill, co-sponsored by Reps. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) and Mark Souder (R-Ind.), was introduced previously and stalled. The measure now stands a good chance of gaining approval by the House of Representatives because of an unusual legislative maneuver, congressional staff members and observers said.

Souder said he acted because the D.C. government has made only limited changes to its 32-year-old handgun ban since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month that it was unconstitutional. In particular, he said, the city's new, temporary legislation still requires handgun owners to keep their weapons disassembled or secured with a trigger lock unless someone in the home was in danger. The District also continues to prohibit residents from owning semiautomatic handguns.

"The net impact is to defy the Supreme Court," Souder said.

The bill would repeal the District's ban on semiautomatic pistols and eliminate all registration requirements.

Souder is seeking to bring the bill to the floor through a "discharge petition," which requires the signatures of 218 House members. The move allows the measure to bypass House committees, and forces the Democratic majority to allow the full chamber to vote on it.

Since filing the petition last week, Souder has collected 109 signatures. He is confident of picking up sufficient support since 247 legislators had previously co-sponsored the gun bill, including 56 Democrats.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) has called the legislative maneuver an "unprecedented attack on D.C.," especially because the city is still working on a law to replace the stopgap gun measure. She has raised her concerns with the Democratic leadership and expressed outrage in a speech last week to the Democratic caucus.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) said yesterday that they had sent a letter to Democratic members of the House asking them not to sign the petition.

"The issue at hand is not so much gun-related as it is ensuring that District of Columbia elected officials be able to discharge the duties for which their constituents elected them," the letter said.

The gun rights issue is popular in Congress, and Democrats from conservative regions will probably face pressure to support the bill, especially if it reaches the floor before the November election. Some House Democrats are discussing possible compromise legislation to head off the tougher gun measure.

Even if the Ross-Souder bill passes the House, there is no guarantee that it would become law. Souder said the measure probably would not make it through the Senate this year, "because they're hopelessly deadlocked."

"I don't know if anything is going to become law prior to this election," he said. "But at least it would send a message that Congress doesn't agree with the District of Columbia's strategy."

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