Congressional efforts to repeal D.C. gun laws imperil homeland security

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

CONGRESS LONG ago demonstrated its disdain for the residents of the District of Columbia. So there's little hope that appeals about the rights or even the safety of its 600,000 residents will factor into consideration of the specious effort to rewrite the city's gun laws. What lawmakers might want to think twice about, however, are the homeland security implications of making the nation's capital wide open to guns. Surely currying favor with the gun lobby is not worth that risk, even if this is an election year.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) have introduced legislation (S. 3265) that would abolish most D.C. gun laws and largely strip local authorities of their ability to regulate firearms. A companion bill (H.R. 5162) has been introduced in the House. The move comes in the wake of the decision by House leaders to abandon the D.C. voting rights bill because similar gun provisions -- including abolishing gun registration and repealing a ban on military-style semiautomatic assault weapons -- were attached.

As bad as that noxious amendment crafted by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) was, this new proposal is even worse. Particularly pernicious are provisions that would prohibit private property owners, along with the D.C. government, from restricting possession of firearms by anyone who leases space on that property. So, as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence points out, this means the District wouldn't be able to restrict guns in government buildings if space were leased to a sandwich shop.

Imagine parents who have lost a family member to gun violence having to allow a renter to possess firearms. No state imposes such restrictions on private landowners, so why is this a good idea in a city where motorcades of high government officials and foreign dignitaries are an almost-daily routine?

D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-At-Large) had part of the answer at a rally protesting the bill. "Why is it that every time a member of Congress from some far-off place finds his or herself in a tough reelection campaign, they decide to meddle with the District of Columbia?" said Mr. Catania, noting Mr. McCain is fighting for his political life in Arizona's upcoming Senate primary.

Whether the National Rifle Association succeeds with this dangerous legislation is largely up to Democratic leaders in the House and Senate. There will be a strong push, particularly from Blue Dog Democrats in the House, to bring these measures up for a vote so that lawmakers up for reelection can secure favorable ratings from the NRA. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) must ensure that those political considerations don't trump what's in the best interest of the city as well as the nation's security.

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