PARLIAMENTARIANS gathered in Washington this holiday weekend from Europe and North America arrived just in time to witness the U.S. House of Representatives -- on the eve of the anniversary commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence -- trample upon the right of self-determination. Morphing themselves into city council members, a House majority overturned a city law and voted to allow D.C. residents to keep in their homes loaded shotguns and rifles, as well as handguns bought before 1976, unbounded by trigger locks or disassembled. The deed itself makes a mockery of Congress as a federal body. If the action is allowed to stand, however, the consequences could be even worse: The nation's capital will become a deadlier place in which to live.
The gun safety law that the House voted to repeal makes all the sense in the world. It enjoys the full backing of the city's mayor, council, police chief and, most important of all, the city's residents. Perhaps residents and their leaders want the law on the books because they know, even if the House does not, that properly locked or secured guns help prevent gun violence and accidental shootings. Perhaps District residents support their gun safety laws because they now see crime in their city at a 20-year low. Perhaps they also resent this imposition of House judgment because District residents, through their elected leaders, are authorized under the Home Rule Act to make their own laws. But perhaps they are outraged most of all because they have no vote in Congress. At the very time that the House was telling Americans living in the District what their local laws should be, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the District's representative on Capitol Hill, had to stand by and watch -- unable to express her views with a vote.
We hope opponents of the House action are successful in stopping the repeal in the Senate. Clearly the last thing D.C. police need is another obstacle to charging negligent gun owners with gun safety violations or more cases of children dying from playing with guns. The notion of Congress encouraging citizens in the nation's capital to keep loaded and unprotected guns in their homes borders on insanity. Ironically, this quashing of self-determination is taking place under the eyes of the 55-nation parliamentary assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is conducting its annual meeting in the city. On Saturday a committee of the group overwhelmingly supported a resolution calling for equal voting rights for D.C. residents. The plight of the voteless District is plain for the world to see.