D.C. Voting Bill's Gun Amendment Divides Residents

(Nikita Stewart - The Washington Post)
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By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 8, 2009

The D.C. vote bill has divided residents of a city that voices an age-old grievance in a slogan at the bottom of automobile license plates: "Taxation Without Representation."

As some residents worked in their yards, walked their dogs, shopped at flea markets and otherwise enjoyed yesterday's warm weather, they sounded well-informed about the District's latest hurdle to getting a voting seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

At the moment, a Senate bill that would grant that vote contains an amendment that would strip the city of much of its power to regulate firearms. Should the city give up its gun control authority for a meaningful voice in Congress?

On the streets, people said yes, they said no, they said maybe, and they shrugged their shoulders in frustration.

Aminata Ahmadu, 26, became animated as she talked about being a native Washingtonian and feeling oppressed by Congress. With co-workers and volunteers, she was holding a yard sale in the parking lot of Meridian Public Charter School on Florida Avenue NW to raise money for the nonprofit at which Ahmadu helps teen women.

"They don't even live in our city," she said of members of Congress. "They don't have to worry about getting [shot] in the back. . . . Tell them if they want to pass this law, live in inner-city D.C."

But Ahmadu said she was willing to forgo gun control authority. "I think they should go for it," she said of advocates. "There's always going to be something and something else and something else. But you know what? Just like they fought in the civil rights movement, we'll fight. It's going to happen."

The Senate recently passed its version of the voting rights bill, with the amendment that would do away with D.C. gun control law and severely limit the city's authority to pass new firearms restrictions. D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and others who favor voting rights and gun control in the District are trying to muster support to bring a D.C. vote bill to the House floor without an anti-gun control amendment.

Kwasi Abdul Jalil, who sells used books at a flea market on U Street NW, said he supports a voting rights bill even if it means curbing the city's power to regulate firearms.

"There are some that believe we will have gun control when we have an all-white council," said Jalil, who declined to reveal his age. "We will have statehood when you have someone white as mayor."

Meanwhile, at Eastern Market, 30-year-old Eric Marshall had an opposite view. "You give with one hand and take with the other," he said of the gun amendment dilemma. "I have a hard time swallowing that this would be a victory."

"I don't think it's worth it," said Marshall, who helped lead the campaign that resulted in a smoking ban for the District.

Lawyer Rebecca Schechter, 30, was on the same page as she walked her dog, Brooklyn. "It really offended me, the gun amendment. I don't think Congress should be deciding on a city level what should be decided by the council," she said. "I know this is Eleanor Holmes Norton's thing. . . . I don't think [the bill] should go as is."

It doesn't have to be passed with amendments, said Bert Collins, a guitarist, and Andre Ferguson, a producer, both in their 40s and voting rights advocates. They were taking advantage of yesterday's weather by shooting a music video in front of the historic Howard Theatre on T Street NW. Collins was wearing a T-shirt that displayed the city's license plate and read "DC VOTE."

They were optimistic that the gun amendment can be stripped before a vote. "Remember -- they didn't think we would get" this far, Ferguson said.

Paul Monsour, 32, said the city needs a handgun law and an amendment should dissuade advocates from pushing the voting rights bill. But Monsour, a Mississippi transplant, said he's not sold on voting rights, anyway.

"I tend to think the people of the District get a lot of benefits," he said. "We get to vote in national elections. We have all 535 representatives [and senators] supposedly looking out for us."

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