In a short-lived victory for gun rights advocates, the House voted yesterday to ease the ban on handgun ownership in the District -- before scuttling all of its proposed national gun control legislation, leaving the city's anti-gun law intact.
District leaders could claim only what Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) called a "bittersweet" success at having withstood a drive to undermine the 23-year-old law, one of the first acts passed by the D.C. Council after limited self-rule was granted to residents in 1974.
"Today's attempts to invade our rightful home rule jurisdiction and crush our gun laws is a fight no local jurisdiction should have to make against our national legislature," said Norton, who spoke against the measure but could not vote. "We intend to stand and fight, each and every time."
D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) expressed relief as the gun rights measures died in the House. "The last thing the District needs would be any extra guns in the streets or in the homes," she said.
The House voted to kill legislation that would have weakened regulation of gun show sales and also killed about a half-dozen amendments that had been attached to the gun show measure -- including a rider permitting "law-abiding residents" in the District to keep a handgun at home and to carry an unloaded weapon for a "lawful transaction."
The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), was passed by a razor-thin 213 to 208 vote, with 174 Republicans and 39 Democrats voting for it.
"We dodged a bullet," said Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D). He said the proposed legislation "underscores just how vulnerable our local laws are. . . . We must continue to do everything possible to keep guns off the streets and out of the hands of our children."
Earlier yesterday, the House killed a more sweeping proposal by Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr. (D-Va.) to repeal the District's gun control act. That vote was 175 to 250, with 145 Republicans joining 30 Democrats in backing the measure.
Locally, Republican Reps. Roscoe G. Bartlett (Md.), Herbert H. Bateman (Va.) and Wayne T. Gilchrest (Md.) voted for the Hunter amendment. Bartlett and Bateman also voted for the Goode proposal.
Hunter, a suburban San Diego Army veteran, offered the amendment to give the District's residents "the same rights as all Americans," he said in a statement. "I drafted this legislation after hearing from residents about criminals freely bursting into their homes. I was particularly struck by one woman who told of being put on hold when she called 911 to report criminals breaking down her door."
James Jay Baker, chief lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, hailed the vote, saying, "It's about time that Congress recognized that D.C. residents are second-class citizens when it comes to the right to keep and bear arms."
Congressional Republicans said Hunter's amendment benefited from its title, "Right of law-abiding residents of the District of Columbia to keep a handgun in the home," vs. Goode's "Repeal of law banning firearms."
Local officials said they do not believe the proposals will be revived this year.
"I don't think you will see them again," said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Oversight subcommittee on the District. He opposed both measures.
In other action, the House overwhelmingly approved a gun safety measure sponsored by Davis that would have required safety locks to be sold with all handguns. The measure, similar to language already passed by the Senate, was approved 311 to 115 but died along with the other gun measures when the main legislation was killed.
Because the trigger-lock measure passed the House by such a large margin, Davis said he believes the proposal will be revived when House and Senate conference committee negotiators complete work on a juvenile crime bill.
CAPTION: D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton talk to reporters about the gun bill's defeat.