The House's Stickup

Monday, September 8, 2008

HOUSE DEMOCRATS make much of their support for the right of the District to self-government. Too bad they are willing to sacrifice this basic tenet of American democracy to the political self-interests of members cowed by the powerful gun lobby. How else to explain a planned vote on legislation so extreme it would strip the District of all power to regulate guns? Since appeals for home rule don't appear to be persuasive these days, let's hope that concern about safety and security in the nation's capital kills this bad bill.

H.R. 6691 is the latest effort by the National Rifle Association to wrest jurisdiction over local gun legislation from the District's elected officials. It comes as city officials are in the midst of formulating permanent legislation to comply with the landmark Supreme Court ruling overturning the city's long-standing ban on handguns. Sponsors of the measure, 47 conservative Democrats and five Republicans, say that D.C. officials can't be trusted and so they are acting to ensure Second Amendment rights for city residents. It's a maddening argument considering that none of those who signed on to the bill would ever stomach letting Congress dictate local law to their constituents.

Equally troubling is that the bill goes beyond the scope of the ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller authorizing gun possession for self-defense in the home. The majority opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia specified that a range of gun regulations are "presumptively lawful." But, if sponsors of H.R. 6691 have their way, the District would be barred from passing any law that would "prohibit, constructively prohibit, or unduly burden" gun ownership by anyone not barred by existing (and weak) federal gun laws. That would mean that the District couldn't require a vision test or shooting proficiency or education about gun safety for children. Gun registration would be abolished, as would the ban on carrying weapons -- even military-style rifles -- in public. It's a scary scenario in a city where political protests, presidential motorcades and visits by foreign dignitaries are routine.

The only reason this bill has advanced is because the NRA has threatened to withhold endorsements from conservative Democrats in tough races this year. Faced with a threat by Democrats to sign on to a Republican effort to bring a similar measure straight to the floor, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) caved in to demands for a hearing tomorrow before the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. But it's not too late for the House leadership to decide they have better things to do than rewriting the D.C. Code -- and usurping the rights of city residents.

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