By MIKE RUPERT
Examiner Staff Writer
Published: Thursday, June 30, 2005 10:24 PM EDT
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The District is inching closer to getting its nearly 30-year ban on handguns and semiautomatic weapons yanked by Congress.
The House voted 259-161 Thursday to approve an amendment allowing loaded shotguns, rifles and handguns registered before 1976 to be kept in homes and businesses. The amendment was added during debate on the D.C. appropriations bill, which was expected to pass late Thursday night.
The amendment, introduced by Rep. Mark Edward Souder, R-Ind., passed with 50 Democrats - nearly a quarter of the caucus - voting in favor.
"Being allowed to protect one's self and one's family at home is fundamental," said Souder spokesman Martin Green. "The House has a long history of supporting Second Amendment rights. This is the first step in restoring those rights to the citizens of D.C."
Souder is also working to pass the D.C. Personal Protection Act that would repeal all of the District's gun laws - some of the toughest in the country.
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who along with D.C. Chief Charles H. Ramsey, spoke out against the repeal at a House government reform hearing Tuesday, said the amendment is a mistake.
"It's discouraging when members of Congress who don't represent our city try to shove their laws down our throats," the mayor said. "The entire community in the District is working hard to keep handgun violence down, and this effort by the U.S. Congress would take us in the wrong direction."
Souder did not attend the Tuesday hearing.
D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who has lead the effort against the repeal for years, said the ideas behind the amendment were "insane."
"This isn't about self-defense," Norton said Thursday on the House floor. "This is about pressing forward [Souder's] preferences on the District of Columbia where unanimously every mayor of the city of D.C., every City Council member overwhelmingly, all the residents have voted 'no.'
"Let me hear the co-sponsors argue with a straight face that allowing guns in people's homes will reduce rather than increase the gun violence in the District of Columbia," she said.
Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., who chairs the House government reform committee, said he believes this is the beginning of a "dangerous assault" on home rule in the District.
"There is an appropriate place for a debate on D.C.'s gun laws - and that place is the chambers of the District of Columbia Council, not the floor of the House of Representatives," Davis said. "I'm not saying I agree with the District's gun ban. Frankly, I don't; I think it goes too far. [Yet] D.C. leaders have enacted gun laws that reflect their constituents' view that any increase in the number of guns in the District increases the odds that crimes will be committed with those guns. That's their view, and it should be respected."
Souder's Personal Protection Act would end the District's 1976 ban on handguns and semiautomatic weapons, erase registration requirements for ammunition, legalize unregistered weapons and allow possession of guns in workplaces and homes. Proponents said the D.C. weapon ban is unconstitutional, despite repeated court decisions upholding the ban.
Davis said one of those court decisions is on appeal, and wonders why repeal supporters are pushing so hard.
"Proponents of this amendment have the opportunity for the courts to declare that the D.C. ban violates the Second Amendment," Davis said. "So what's the rush? What are they afraid of? We, and for that matter, the City Council, can consider the gun ban in light of the result of that case."
Senate's role as spoiler
The same act passed the House in 2004 by a vote of 250 to 171, but was not taken up in the Senate. This year, Sens. George Allen, R-Va., and Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, a former D.C. subcommittee chairwoman, are among 31 co-sponsors of the bill. A Hutchison spokesman said that number was expected to reach 50 by the time it reaches a vote. In 2004, her bill had 10 co-sponsors.
"The people of D.C. are still being denied their constitutional right. Every day a single mother goes home and can't protect her children," said Hutchison spokesman Chris Paulitz. "The citizens of D.C. are being left defenseless and are having their constitutional rights trampled."