House debates bill to kill D.C. gun restrictions

Published 2:42 pm Thursday, September 18, 2008

The House took up NRA-backed legislation Tuesday to eliminate most of the gun restrictions in the nation’s capital, including a ban on semiautomatic weapons.

The House action comes three months after the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote, struck down the District of Columbia’s ban on handgun possession, ruling that what had been one of the nation’s toughest gun control laws violated the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

It is not likely that the vote, scheduled for Wednesday, would have an immediate effect on gun ownership in one of the country’s more violent cities. The Senate probably won’t consider the bill in the few remaining weeks of this session.

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It could bolster the pro-gun credentials of some Democrats from more rural districts who face tough elections in November. The drive to repeal D.C. gun limits is being led by Rep. Travis Childers, a conservative Democrat who captured a long-held GOP seat in Mississippi in a special election last May.

The D.C. Council on Tuesday deflected some of the criticism of its gun policies by voting to let residents own most semiautomatic pistols and eliminate a requirement that guns be stored unloaded or secured with trigger locks.

Critics said the latest changes still didn’t go far enough.

In July, after the Supreme Court ruling, the council passed an emergency measure allowing possession of unloaded revolvers in homes but maintaining the ban on semiautomatics.

The NRA and pro-gun lawmakers seized on that earlier emergency rule to contend that D.C. was continuing to defy the Supreme Court’s decision giving residents the right to defend themselves.

If Childers’ bill is enacted into law, the NRA said, D.C. residents could “purchase a pistol or revolver from a gun dealer in Maryland or Virginia, not be required to register it with the city government, store it loaded, assembled and without a triggerlock in the home and use it for defense of self and family.”

The House on Tuesday initially took up legislation sponsored by the District’s Democratic delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton that simply requires that the D.C. Council, within 180 days, revise firearm laws to ensure they are consistent with the Supreme Court decision.

Childers will offer his bill as a substitute for the Norton measure. The Childers alternative appeared to have the votes to override Norton’s version.

Norton said her bill respects the self-governing rights Congress gave the District more than three decades ago, but acknowledged she faced a powerful foe. Five days after the Sept. 11 anniversary, she said, “Democrats were met in a dark alley with a do-or-die demand from the NRA.”

The alternative was also backed by the White House, which said it would “immediately advance Second Amendment principles” protecting the rights of D.C. residents “not only to protect themselves and their families but also to protect their homes and property.”

Childers said his legislation was designed only to overturn D.C. laws that conflict with the Supreme Court ruling and would allow residents to buy only those firearms that are legal under federal law.