When the leadership of the House of Representatives announced plans to vote on legislation repealing the District of Columbia's gun control laws, many in the District reacted with anger and disbelief. In the aftermath, however, one additional thought nagged: Are the bill's supporters in Congress willing to apply the same standards to the sidewalks of Capitol Hill that they would impose on the District?
Or, to put a more practical twist to it, would Congress, in the midst of terrorism alerts, allow people to openly carry unlocked and loaded semiautomatic rifles across Capitol Hill without a permit?
Of course, Capitol Hill is exempt from some D.C. laws, and would be from this one too if it passed. But I raise this question in all sincerity. The cynically packaged District of Columbia Personal Protection Act, which is co-sponsored by a majority of the House members, should be regarded as more than just another playful election-year ruse. It is an attack on home rule and on representative democracy for District of Columbia residents.
It's unlikely that supporters of this bill ever dared to impose local laws on their own constituents. But in this case, where they advocate imposing laws on the District, their motives are apparent. They believe they have the power to dictate local laws. If they can't succeed, they at least hope to score some political points.
The District knows what firearms regulations work best for its residents. Firearms laws that work in Indiana or Utah do not necessarily fit a densely populated urban setting. Recognizing this difference, city leaders and residents made a decision regarding the safety of city families, workers and tourists by enacting the Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975.
Despite the belief of many, D.C. laws do not prevent law-abiding citizens from owning firearms. Since 1976 District residents have registered more than 100,000 firearms -- mostly rifles and shotguns -- with the D.C. police.
Current law does, however, ban handguns for the public, save for owners of security companies and law enforcement officers, and most types of semiautomatic weapons.
It also contains many other safety provisions. It forbids anyone younger than 18 from owning and carrying any firearm, for example, and it requires gun owners to notify police if firearms are lost or stolen.
All these provisions and more would be swept away by the House bill. It would repeal the District's firearms restrictions as well as the registration requirements. As a result, people could openly transport loaded, unlocked assault rifles and shotguns on city streets without a license. As a final affront, the legislation would almost certainly prohibit the District from passing new laws.
While it is clear that some residents of other states might disagree with the District's gun safety laws, it is equally clear that the laws enjoy support across the District.
It's not just the victims of crime and their families who are affronted by the brazen attempt to dictate local law to the District. A group of respected civic and business leaders recently wrote the House leadership, saying that the "rollback of these fundamental public safety laws would have a significant, negative effect on the District's business climate, and could undermine the foundations of our city's economy and quality of life."
Sadly, because District residents lack full voting representation in the House and Senate, they are reduced to being mere spectators of this "democracy." Members of Congress should recognize that residents of the District share the desire that local laws passed through their own legislature remain intact.
Passage of this legislation would be a grave injustice to the District, especially to its children, who are disproportionate victims of gun violence, and it would be a setback to the democratic principle of home rule. For members of Congress to impose their will on the District is not just anti-democratic, it is the ultimate hypocrisy.
The writer, a Democrat, is mayor of the District of Columbia.