A coalition of District political, labor, business and religious leaders took aim yesterday at U.S. senators seeking to repeal the city's gun restrictions, with some accusing the senators of using D.C. residents as pawns to further their own political ambitions.
At a news conference at the District's Shaw Junior High School, some of the local leaders threatened to work for the defeat of Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) and George Allen (R-Va.), who are spearheading a Senate bill to abolish various D.C. gun laws, including the city's 29-year-old ban on private ownership of handguns.
Hutchison is weighing a 2006 bid for governor. Allen faces reelection in 2006 and is contemplating a 2008 presidential bid.
"To those who seek to use the District of Columbia as a platform to run for governor of their state . . . you might find residents of the District of Columbia knocking on doors in Texas and educating folks about your work," said Joslyn N. Williams, president of the Metropolitan Washington Council of the AFL-CIO.
The Rev. Lionel Edmonds, head of the Washington Interfaith Network, said leaders of the 60 denominations represented in his group would reach out to organize like-minded clergy in Virginia and Texas.
Others appearing at the news conference included Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) -- who said repeal would increase a D.C. homicide rate that is at a 20-year low -- School Superintendent Clifford B. Janey and relatives of shooting victims. The anti-gun activists announced the formation of the National Coalition for D.C. Democracy and Safety to lobby against the Senate bill and a similar House measure, which were introduced last month.
On the other side, the National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups have pushed several times since 1999 for a repeal of the D.C. gun laws, the most restrictive in the country, arguing that they violate the Second Amendment's guarantee of the right to bear arms and have not worked to stop crime.
Allen spokesman David Snepp said the city's high rate of violent crime shows that its gun laws have failed "not only the residents of D.C. but those from neighboring Virginia who visit and work in the District. The goal should be to crack down on criminals, not law-abiding citizens."
Hutchison spokesman Chris Paulitz said the senator's motives are personal, not political. "Senator Hutchison spends a lot of time in Washington, D.C., when we are in session. She wants to be able to protect herself. She wants women to able to protect themselves. She wants people in crime-ridden areas to not have to rely on other people to protect themselves," he said.
Hutchison does not have a date scheduled for a vote but hopes one could come as early as next month, Paulitz said. The repeal has 31 Senate co-sponsors, with about 50 expected, he said.
The House voted 250 to 171 last year in favor of repealing the D.C. gun laws. But the bill languished in a Senate committee, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) declined to push the matter to a floor vote because of other legislative fights, such as one over a bill to grant gun manufacturers immunity from liability suits. That measure also remains pending this year.
At Shaw Junior High, D.C. officials said more guns would lead to more violent crime and youth homicides.
"Does Senator Allen really believe that his neighbors in D.C. or any big city will be safer if more guns are introduced?" Norton asked, noting that nearly 60 percent of the guns recovered by police in the city come from Maryland and Virginia.
"Dallas has had the second-highest murder rate in the country for seven years running and now also has the highest crime rate in the U.S.," Norton said. "Senator Hutchison has far more urgent work to do at home than in D.C."