A freshman Republican congressman from Virginia has introduced legislation to void the District’s strict gun laws as one of his first bills, sparking a retort from Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) that he should pay more attention to the lax gun laws in his own state.
Rep. Thomas Garrett’s bill, filed March 15, would eliminate the District’s prohibition on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines while making it easier for residents and visitors to carry concealed firearms.
The bill is the House counterpart to legislation reintroduced this year by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
“My citizens should be able to come to their capital and protect themselves, just the way they can at home,” said Garrett, a former state senator who represents Charlottesville and a conservative swath of central and southern Virginia. “This should be something that D.C. leadership looks at. It’s their responsibility to protect their citizens.”
Norton, the District’s nonvoting delegate to the House, also questioned why Garrett would to try to make it easier for people to carry weapons in the District but not address the prohibition of firearms on Capitol grounds. A spokesman for Garrett said he would support a change that would allow anyone with a concealed carry permit to bring a gun into the Capitol. Virginia issues concealed carry permits.
Norton said Virginia’s relaxed gun regulations have been a problem for the nation’s capital.
Virginia’s laws drew national attention this month when New York authorities busted what they called an illegal gun trafficking ring that funneled more than 200 handguns and semiautomatic assault rifles and boxes of ammunition from Virginia into New York City.
New York police charged 22 Virginia residents and one District man in a 627-count indictment in what they termed the biggest gun case in Brooklyn history. The indictment alleged that straw purchasers legally bought guns at Virginia stores and that 10 defendants took between two and 12 guns at a time to Brooklyn or Manhattan, where they were resold at hefty prices.
Officials said defendants were heard on wiretaps mocking Virginia’s gun laws, with one saying that “our laws are so little, I can give guns away.”
Norton said that Virginia “is a major thoroughfare, beginning with the state itself, for illegal gun running into the District of Columbia. That’s in no small part because of its own very soft gun laws.”
Garrett counters that the murder rate is much higher in the District even with stricter gun laws. Last year, there were 105 fatal shootings in District and 26 in Northern Virginia, according to a Post analysis.
Those numbers, he says, suggest that District residents should be better armed.
“It’s not the law-abiding people we need to worry about,” Garrett said.
Norton said Garrett and other conservative lawmakers who want to limit the federal footprint should not second-guess local laws decided by elected D.C. officials.
“No freshman who has only put in four bills should be looking into somebody else’s jurisdiction,” Norton said in an interview.
The District’s status as a federal district leaves it at the mercy of Congress under the Constitution, which gives the federal government the power to void D.C. laws and approve how it spends local tax dollars.
With unified GOP control of the White House and Congress, Republican lawmakers have been aggressively offering legislation to scale back some of the Democratic city’s liberal laws and policies.
Several Republican lawmakers failed in their attempt to block a law allowing terminally ill District residents to end their lives. But they may pursue an alternative line of attack against the law by preventing the city from spending money to implement it.
The House passed legislation in February that would permanently ban the District from spending its local tax dollars to subsidize abortion for low-income women. It has not come up for a vote in the Senate, where Democrats could block the bill through a filibuster.
Garrett’s legislation follows several unsuccessful attempts to void D.C. gun laws in recent years, including one that derailed a 2009 deal that would have granted the District’s delegate to Congress the right to vote on federal legislation.