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July 28, 2008

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Something strange seems to come over far-right Republican Members of Congress during election season. A case in point is seven-term Congressman Mark Souder from the state of Indiana. He is by all accounts an opponent of “Big Government” and federal interference in local matters. But in an election year when he is facing a stiff challenge from Democrat Mike Montagano, Souder has decided to spend his time pushing a bill that seeks to usurp the powers of the mayor, city council and residents of the District of Columbia.

H.R. 1399 would pre-empt the Supreme Court’s recent decision in District of Columbia v. Heller and prevent the city from complying with the ruling by instituting a new registration system for handguns. Souder’s bill would allow individuals to possess unregistered firearms, repeal the District’s ban on assault weapons, and prohibit the city from taking any future action “to enact laws or regulations that discourage or eliminate the private ownership or use of firearms.” Federal lawmakers are essentially being asked to impose on the city of Washington something they would never tolerate for their own home districts.

Given the state of the economy and the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, one would think our Congress has far more important things to do than serve as the city council for the District of Columbia. However, the National Rifle Association (NRA) remains a lobbying power on Capitol Hill and it is eager to throw raw meat to its contributors as the November elections approach. According to The Hill newspaper, the NRA will be grading Members of Congress on whether they support a discharge petition to bring H.R. 1399 to the floor of the House. Conservatives looking for NRA money and support have been put on notice.

The District is vulnerable to such an attack, of course, because it continues to lack voting representation in Congress. Rep. Souder and many of the co-sponsors of H.R. 1399 are the same politicians that time and again have opposed the “District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act,” which would give the city a voting representative in their chamber for the first time ever. D.C.’s non-voting Delegate to Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, has been perfectly clear regarding her opinion of Rep. Souder’s legislation, stating, “I've seen some outrageous attempts to violate home-rule, but this nakedly political and unnecessary NRA-driven attempt is a new low because, by acting now, they deny the District the decency and respect due any American jurisdiction going through the prescribed process for complying with [a decision by the Supreme Court].”

In a time when our country is facing real and pressing issues domestically and abroad, it’s not only D.C. that should be feeling outrage. Voters who want their elected officials to deal with the problems that actually affect them and their families might also want to keep their eye on what Rep. Souder and the NRA are trying to pull off in Congress.


  1. Sir,

    A couple of quick comments.

    1. Congress delegated the day to day operations and management of the DISTRICT of Columbia to home rule but they didn't and should abdicate responsibility for it. That is in the Constitution. Congress is acting rightly to address the situation.
    Mayor Fenty and the council are not even close to complying with the letter or intent of the Heller Decision. The bill addresses that issue.

    2. Why should legal gun owners have to register a legal product when the criminals - non law abiding- don't have to? Felons in possession of hand guns aren't required to register them as they would be a violation of their 5th amendment rights. Why should criminals have more rights, not less, than the law abiding citizens?

  2. Yes, why should Congress be concerned with how the states (and DC) obey the Bill of Rights? It is comical the lengths that DC will go to circumvent a very straightforward ruling. This came from yesterday's Washington Post:

    "The District's acting attorney general, Peter Nickles, said yesterday that the city's and Heller's interpretations of the high court ruling are fundamentally at odds.

    In the District's view, Nickles said, the ruling gives people the right to use firearms in self-defense but not the right to keep firearms loaded and ready for use in case the need for self-defense arises."

    I've read that last section four or five times, and I still can't figure out when it would be permissible to defend yourself in the District.

    I guess that it makes far more sense to let lawyers of Peter Nickels' caliber to interpret the Constitution than Congress or the Supreme Court.

  3. Bob, thank you for your comments.

    In regards to your first point, you are correct that Congress was given plenary and exclusive authority to legislate all matters concerning the District. However, we find it deeply troubling that our country is the only democracy in the world in which citizens of the capital city lack voting representation in the national legislature. It is certainly within the power of Congress to grant such representation and provide basic democratic rights to American citizens who pay taxes, serve on juries, and serve in our nation's military.

    As for whether Mayor Fenty and the D.C. Council are "not even close" in complying with the Heller decision, that is a matter for the courts to decide at some point in the future. The Mayor and D.C. Council at this point have merely issued emergency legislation to comply with the ruling within the prescribed 30-day time period. They have stated all along that more comprehensive legislation will be offered when the D.C. Council resumes work in the fall and has more time to consider the shape of the city's firearm regulations. We don't believe that it is unreasonable for the city to take a few months to make dramatic, comprehensive, and permanent changes in their gun laws. To the contrary, given the city's history with handgun violence, it would be irresponsible to rush such critical decisions without proper study and consideration.

    Your second point is factually incorrect. ALL D.C. residents, no matter what their criminal background, would have to register handguns in order to possess them legally in the District. If they do not register handguns and are found to be in possession of them within city limits, they will be arrested and prosecuted.

    As for the issue of convicted felons and other prohibited purchasers obtaining illegal guns, those firearms are being trafficked in illegally from outside states such as VA and MD. In fact, annually, 96% of D.C.'s crime guns are trafficked in illegally from outside states. It is not D.C.'s tough gun laws that criminals and traffickers exploit to get hold of such guns, it is weak laws in these outsides states that allow prohibited purchasers easy access to firearms (sometimes without so much as undergoing a background check). - CSGV

  4. Actually Jeff, the majority opinion in Heller by Justice Scalia stated, "We hold that the District’s ban on handgun possession in the home violates the Second Amendment, as does its prohibition against rendering any lawful firearm in the home operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense." Immediate self-defense certainly does not mean keeping a loaded, unsecured handgun in one's home at all times.

    Responding to the ruling, the D.C. Council's emergency legislation did indeed provide an exemption to their safety/storage requirements for firearms for self-defense "to protect against a reasonably perceived threat of immediate harm to a person" in the home.

    It should also be stated that even before this explicit exemption was created in D.C. law, the District did not prosecute individuals who used long guns for legitimate self-defense purposes in the home. - CSGV