The Republican controlled Congress had a bad habit of stomping on the District of Columbia’s home rule during their 12 years in the majority. In that time they dictated socially conservative policies, often using D.C. as a guinea pig for untested conservative causes in an effort to garner plaudits from the conservative cognoscenti.
But with victory in the last election, Democrats seized control of the House and Senate and with it the promise of an end to the affront on D.C.’s home rule. No longer would legislative “riders” attached to appropriations bills enable heavy-handed federal restrictions to rule District initiatives such as stemming the transmission of disease through needle exchange programs.
Unfortunately, that code may be broken this week with consideration of a bill that literally strips the District of their ability to regulate firearms. Coming on the heels of the Heller v. District of Columbia Supreme Court ruling which found D.C.’s ban on handguns and trigger lock requirements to be unconstitutional, this congressional effort, backed by the NRA, would open the door to whole host of gun activity that DC residents oppose and would make our nation’s capital less safe. The bill would repeal D.C.’s registration requirements (which the Court tellingly stayed silent on), repeal the city’s ban on semiautomatic weapons (also left intact by the Court) and explicitly prohibits District government from enacting any law “to prohibit, constructively prohibit, or unduly burden the ability” to acquire and possess firearms.
I understand full well the politics behind this debate. It appears Republicans have enough votes to successfully file a discharge petition that would take control of the House floor and bring up the bill. If that were to happen, they could use the opportunity to open the door to a whole host of problematic provisions, potentially making a bad bill even worse.
But I will be opposing this legislation and plan to speak out loudly against it when it comes up on the House floor. The District of Columbia is currently in the process of bringing their laws into compliance with the Heller decision. They should have the ability to enact their own laws, with the lower courts serving as the arbiter for what passes muster with the Supreme Court’s decision.
The NRA is forcing Congress to go on record on this gun issue to help bolster their legal arguments in future Supreme Court decisions, hoping to cite this legislation as what’s known in legal parlance as “Congressional guidance.” My hope is that the Senate will bottle up the bill and it dies a timely death. With only three weeks remaining in session for the fiscal year, District residents are likely to be counting the days till we recess and their gun safety laws are left unharmed.