Open Season on the District

Thursday, September 18, 2008

THE U.S. SENATE represents the last, best hope to stop the mindless push to enact a dangerous gun law in the District. And stop it the senators must.

The House voted yesterday to adopt a measure that would gut the District's gun laws and that goes far beyond the Supreme Court's finding this summer of an individual right to bear arms. The bill would prohibit the District from requiring that weapons be registered -- the most reasonable and benign of measures. It would allow ownership of semiautomatic handguns and rifles and would place no age restriction on gun possession. And it would effectively strip the District of the ability to enact any regulations that could be seen as unduly burdening gun ownership. If even registration is seen as unduly burdensome, that leaves little room and little hope for other reasonable provisions.

The bill is not only a slap in the face to home rule, it is an affront to common sense and safety. How are police supposed to trace guns used in crimes if they are unregistered? How are they to protect lawmakers, dignitaries, visitors, workers and residents when guns are treated like any other product to be bought and sold with no restrictions? While many gun rights advocates tout their bona fides as law-and-order types, they apparently have no trouble ignoring the testimony of scores of police chiefs and law enforcement officers across the country who believe that sensible regulation saves lives. And never mind that even Justice Antonin Scalia, among the most conservative jurists in the land, went out of his way in District of Columbia v. Heller to note that a constitutional right to keep and bear arms and reasonable government regulation -- including registration and a ban on assault weapons -- are not mutually exclusive propositions. The drafters and supporters of this bill have done what many thought was impossible: They've made Justice Scalia look like a liberal.

The National Rifle Association championed the bill, and House Democratic leaders caved in to its demand that the bill be brought to a vote after the organization threatened to withhold endorsements of conservative Democrats in tight races this year. Conscientious senators of both parties must now stand up to these intimidation tactics and prevent a dangerously bad bill from becoming law.

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