REP. MARK EDWARD Souder is about as interested in the hopes, fears and aspirations of D.C. residents as a rock along the Maumee River in his northeast Indiana congressional district. What does engage the Republican congressman's enthusiasm is the prospect of forcing House Democrats to vote on a gun control law in a hotly contested election year. That helps explain why Mr. Souder is pressing for a vote on his bill, which would remove the District's stringent ban on handguns, lift a restriction against semiautomatic weapons, end registration requirements for ammunition and other firearms, and cancel criminal penalties for possessing unregistered firearms and carrying a handgun in one's home or workplace. Wasting no opportunity to thumb their noses at District residents who strongly support the handgun bans -- and to ingratiate themselves with gun rights groups -- House Republican leaders have promised Mr. Souder a vote before the Nov. 2 election. A more contemptible display of cynicism would be hard to find.
Mr. Souder maintains that his bill is not an incursion on home rule but rather is based on the Second Amendment's guarantee of gun rights. He's wrong, of course. The District's authority to enact gun control laws has not been successfully challenged in court. Likewise, if Congress adopts language that denies the city's elected leaders "authority to enact laws or regulations that discourage or eliminate the private ownership or use of firearms" -- as proposed by Mr. Souder -- what is that but a restriction on the city's self-governing powers? Besides, the District is hardly unique: Seven states also have their own bans on assault weapons. But it's not the Constitution that is at issue. Mr. Souder and the House GOP leadership are out to put Democrats on the defensive, especially those in competitive congressional races where the gun lobby might hold sway.
It matters not a bit to Mr. Souder and his gun allies that the D.C. police department has its hands full trying to keep deadly weapons off the streets. Last year D.C. police recovered 1,982 firearms from criminal suspects. As of Sept. 8, D.C. cops had already recovered 1,385 guns this year. Justifiable concerns that repeal of the city's gun laws would worsen violence on D.C. streets have fallen on deaf ears in the U.S. Capitol. House Republicans, if they have their way, would just as soon turn the nation's capital into a free-fire zone -- and for cheap political reasons.
It is small comfort to observe, as some have, that the Souder bill would have dim prospects in the Senate this year. This offensive and opportunistic bill should not be allowed to see the light of day in the House of Representatives. But to say that is to hope that respect for the rights of District residents would rank above lust for partisan advantage.