By Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 28, 2010; B02
Legislation introduced in Congress on Tuesday would weaken the District's gun-control laws and restrict the D.C. Council from regulating firearms.
The effort comes a week after congressional officials, responding to similar pro-gun language in a D.C. voting rights bill, dropped the legislation, which would have secured a voting seat in the House for the District.
The Senate version, sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is intended to make it easier to buy guns and ammunition in the District and to repeal local registration and firearm storage requirements.
The sponsors say it would ensure that the District complies with a landmark 2008 Supreme Court decision that overturned the city's decades-old ban on handgun possession.
"Some may ask why a senator from Arizona and a senator from Montana would introduce legislation that impacts the District of Columbia," McCain said in a statement. "It's simple -- we believe that residents across this country should be able to exercise their constitutional right to have access to firearms to protect themselves."
Joshua Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, called the legislation "political grandstanding" that does not take into account that the D.C. Council passed laws last year to comply with the court ruling, which were upheld in March by a federal judge.
The city has already repealed a ban on semiautomatic pistols, he said, and allows residents to keep loaded guns in their homes. Most troubling to gun-control advocates, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and members of the D.C. Council are the legislation's proposed restrictions on local control of firearms.
"This is another egregious attempt to impose their will on District residents at the risk of exposing our families to acts of gun violence," said council member Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large).
Last week, Democratic congressional leaders dropped voting rights legislation in part because of deep divisions over the pro-gun language among city leaders. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) had been willing to accept some loosening of D.C. gun laws, but she pulled back when she learned that gun-rights advocates were seeking what she called "far more dangerous" changes to the city's laws.
Norton initially pressed to move ahead with the legislation, despite opposition from the D.C. Council, because, in her view, the influential pro-gun lobby would seek to repeal the city's gun laws with or without a voting rights bill.
Chris W. Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action, said in a statement Tuesday that the NRA backs the legislation and "remains committed to restoring the right to self-defense for law-abiding citizens in Washington, D.C., by whatever legal or legislative means necessary."
Unlike the gun amendment to the voting rights legislation, the bills introduced by Tester and McCain in the Senate and by Reps. Travis Childers (D-Miss.) and Mark Souder (R-Ind.) in the House are stand-alone measures. Democratic leaders are unlikely to schedule the bills for floor consideration on their own. Lawmakers could try to attach the gun bills to some must-pass legislation.
"These people want to proliferate guns in the District," Norton said Tuesday, reacting to the legislation in an interview with NewsChannel 8. "This is not just guns in the home. It is transporting guns . . . carrying guns in the street."
Staff writer Ben Pershing contributed to this report.