Vote for D.C. caught in gun rights crossfire

Republicans hijack a measure to give D.C. a vote in the House -- proving that Congress can't resist messing with the District


Mike Madden
March 4, 2009 11:49PM (UTC)

WASHINGTON -- Congress, and especially conservative lawmakers, have an almost pathological need to tell Washington, D.C., how to run its affairs. But even considering the District's tortured history at the hands of its federal rulers, the impasse that's developing over legislation to give the city a vote in the House of Representatives is painfully ironic.

House Democratic leaders pulled the bill from the floor this week because Republicans -- with help from some Democrats from conservative districts -- were preparing to use the legislation to wipe out the District's gun control laws. (That already happened in the Senate, which passed the bill last week, but only after Nevada Republican John Ensign's amendment to undo D.C. gun laws was also approved, much to the joy of the National Rifle Association.) There's no official word yet on when the bill might be brought back. So now a measure to give the District's nearly 600,000 citizens a little bit of democracy is held up indefinitely because federal lawmakers can't keep keep their grubby legislative hands off of D.C.'s municipal code.

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The Supreme Court has already thrown out D.C.'s gun control laws once; the laws Ensign is pushing to erase from the books were written last year to comply with the court's ruling that they were unconstitutional. So the ostensible explanation from the GOP -- "Hey, we're just looking out for D.C. residents' Second Amendment rights" -- is a little hard to believe. What's probably weighing more on the minds of Ensign and his allies is the fact that the NRA is expected to use votes related to D.C.'s gun laws for its official rankings of whether lawmakers are sufficiently pro-gun.

Local officials in the District are -- understandably -- starting to get a little fed up. "To make us swallow this without objection... we're just lying down, just like always," D.C. city council member Mary M. Cheh told the Washington Post. "What have we won?" But advocates for the bill say they hope House Democrats will find a way to pass the legislation without the gun provision, and then push a clean version through both the House and Senate for final passage.

"We've had a number of people ask us to push for more" than just the vote in the House, Jaline Quinto, a spokeswoman for D.C. Vote, told Salon. "There just aren't the votes for that, and I think the attempts to derail the current legislation prove that."


Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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