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Norton Willing to Accept Gun Provision

The District of Columbia would face escalated violence, an influx of assault weapons and untold budget increases if Congress passes an amendment wiping out the city’s gun laws, local and federal law enforcement officials said on Friday.

But D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) indicated that she would risk such effects to pass the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act.

House leaders have spent weeks trying to detach the gun amendment from the bill, which would give D.C. its first-ever voting Representative. The amendment was included in the Senate-passed version, courtesy of Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.).

They so far haven’t been able to convince enough Members to vote for an amendment-free bill, partly because the National Rifle Association has threatened to count such a vote as anti-gun-rights.

Still, Norton has so far railed against keeping the amendment. But on Friday, she said the bill must pass — even if it means keeping a provision that, among other things, would allow residents to carry AK-47s without any registration.

“We’re going to pass the D.C. House Voting Rights Act. We’re not going to let anything get in our way,— she said at a Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee hearing. “There’s also no question in my mind that if we have this attached to both bills, it’s law.—

Norton’s acceptance of the amendment could smooth the bill’s way to the floor. But obstacles still exist — namely, whether the bill would get the support of enough liberal Members if such an overtly pro-gun amendment is attached.

Another possibility, however, is that House leaders may be able to compromise, watering down the gun amendment enough to please both liberals and pro-gun Democrats. If they were to compromise, they would then have to come to negotiate with the Senate.

By holding the hearing (Norton chairs the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management), she hoped to convince Members that the amendment is extreme and ill-conceived. But she also appeared to be covering her bases.

“The purpose of this hearing was to get on the record what Members of Congress do not know,— she said. “At least no one will be able to say that they did not know.—

But for most of the hearing, Norton was the only Member present. No Republicans showed up, and Reps. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) and Tom Perriello (D-Va.) stayed for only a few minutes.

For four hours, officials from the Capitol Police, the National Guard, the Metro Transit Police and the D.C. government all described how the amendment would affect their efforts to secure the District and surrounding counties.

Capitol Police Assistant Chief Dan Nichols declined to speak directly about the amendment, but told Norton that security of the Capitol would be complicated if residents were permitted to carry weapons.

Right now, officers can assume that if a person has a weapon near the Capitol, he or she is either violating District law or is a law-enforcement official. Under the amendment, residents would be allowed to carry a variety of weapons that could be either unregistered or registered in another state.

“When we have people on the street who are legally in possession of a weapon, that grays the area,— Nichols said. “It is a concern. It is going to take a lot of retraining of our officers.—

The legality of assault weapons would also affect how police guard the Capitol, he said. While no weapons are allowed in Capitol buildings — and that wouldn’t change under the amendment — more-powerful weapons on the street could endanger the Capitol complex.

Other officials said the laws would make policing the Metro difficult and put undue pressure on Maryland and Virginia. One provision in the amendment allows District residents to register their guns in either state — a possibility that Maryland officials are dead-set against because of added cost and the difficulty of tracking buyers.

Vernon Herron, director of homeland security in Prince George’s County, said he feared the possibility of legal guns making their way into criminal hands.

“If this legislation passes,— he said, “Prince George’s County would be in a situation where our crime would increase significantly.—

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