HOUSE REPUBLICANS who profess an allegiance to local democracy outdid themselves in the hypocrisy department last week as they trampled on the District’s right to home rule. Not content with measures that restrict the District from using its locally raised tax dollars for abortions for low-income women, the Republican-controlled House also voted to roll back the city’s decriminalization of marijuana and gut city gun laws. It is now up to the Senate and President Obama to get rid of these perfidious measures; let’s hope Democrats have the spine to stand up for the District.
The House on Wednesday approved a rider to an appropriations bill funding the District that would block the city from enforcing virtually all of its gun restrictions, leaving in place only federal gun law. A federal court has upheld the restrictions on assault weapons and registration requirements enacted by the District after its handgun ban was overturned by the Supreme Court, but that was of no consequence to Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), who sponsored the measure. Far more important was the opportunity to grandstand for folks back home.
“This was an opportunity to have a vote,” he told reporters, according to the Washington City Paper, explaining that his constituents elected him as a pro-Second Amendment lawmaker and that he needs to show them where he stands.
Of course, as D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) pointed out in a fiery floor speech, Mr. Massie also has represented himself as adhering to the “tea party principle that says power should be devolved to the local level.” That he doesn’t see democracy applying to the District is in keeping with Congress’s history of disregard for the rights of citizens who live in the nation’s capital.
The bill now moves to the Senate. While we would like to think that Democratic control of that chamber will mean a slam dunk for the District, we remember how some Democratic lawmakers went along with an amendment stripping D.C. gun restrictions in 2009, fearful of the powerful gun lobby. That ultimately doomed the D.C. voting rights measure it was attached to. We also can’t forget how Mr. Obama threw the city under the bus in 2011, trading away its right to spend local monies to provide abortions to low-income women in order to avoid a government shutdown.
In a veto threat issued before the House took its 241 to 181 vote on Mr. Massie’s ill-considered amendment, Mr. Obama struck the right tone. At stake, the president wrote, were “the principles of States’ rights and of District home rule.” Whether those principles will prevail remains to be seen.