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March 23, 2009

Hobson's Choice a Faustian Bargain

Way back in June of 1783, nearly 400 soldiers of the Continental Army marched on the U.S. Congress in Philadelphia demanding back pay for their duty during the Revolution. The Congress called upon the Executive Council of Pennsylvania to stop the mutiny.

Pennsylvania's subsequent failure to protect the institutions of the national government, however, was a primary reason why the framers of the Constitution decided to create a federal district distinct from the states, where Congress could provide for its own security. The delegates therefore agreed in Article One, Section 8, of the United States Constitution to give the Congress the power "to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States."

In 1790, Congress created the District of Columbia to serve as the new federal capital. The small seat of government foreseen by the Congress has now grown into a major international city with more than half a million residents.

Unfortunately, the District of Columbia is the only jurisdiction in the United States where Americans fulfill all the responsibilities of citizenship but are denied equal rights. Americans living in Washington, D.C., have no voting representation in either chamber of Congress. They truly suffer from “Taxation Without Representation.”

Recently, Congress took up the “D.C. House Voting Rights Act” (H.R.157/S.160), bipartisan legislation that would grant one voting Representative to District residents for the first time ever.

This act of democratic sanity somehow struck a chord of fear and opportunism in the National Rifle Association (NRA) leadership in Virginia. The NRA quickly convinced lawmakers to attach an amendment to the Voting Rights Act which would remove the city's firearm registration requirements, repeal the District's ban on assault weapons, and prohibit the D.C. Council from regulating firearms in the future. The Senate then passed the bill with the NRA amendment, prompting this response from D.C. Council Member Phil Mendelson: "The irony here is that on one hand they vote to give us voting representation, but on the other hand they strip any local representation in regards to our gun laws."

The bill is currently pending in the House of Representatives, where the Democratic Leadership is unwilling at this time to press for a vote, fearing that the NRA amendment will pass as well. Millions of D.C. residents are now facing a Hobson’s Choice: get one vote in the House of Representatives and sacrifice public safety in your city, or remain totally unrepresented in the People’s House. As an American citizen who has resided in the District of Columbia for the past 50 years, I deeply resent the attempt of a partisan right-wing political lobby to force such a choice on me and my fellow D.C. residents.

One thing is certain: the NRA’s “Ensign Amendment” is a clear and grave threat to public safety in the District of Columbia. Now is the time to fight back against the gun lobby’s cynical and cold-blooded ploy and stand together for the principle that is at the foundation of the “D.C. House Voting Rights Act”: self-determination.

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