D.C. Vote Killed by Guns Deal

Concealed Weapons Part of Amendment

Posted April 20, 2010 at 6:48pm

A gun rights amendment backed by the National Rifle Association that would bar Washington, D.C., from prohibiting people from carrying guns in public caused the withdrawal of the D.C. House Voting Rights Act on Tuesday.

“Almost every commercial office building, as well as all rental housing units, could be filled with persons possessing guns,” D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said of the legislation. “These provisions are so over the top, they are unworthy of serious consideration.”

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) announced last week that a vote on the House floor was imminent, only to announce Tuesday that he was pulling the legislation from the calendar. Hoyer said his decision was made after speaking to Norton, who has long championed the issue.

Hoyer said the fault “lies with those who do not honor the right of the District of Columbia to have a voting Representative and want to use this legislation as a vehicle for issues that they have.”

Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the NRA said, “We couldn’t care less about the voting rights issue.” He added that his organization is only interested in finding a way to overturn the city’s “de facto unconstitutional gun ban.”

The new gun language backed by the NRA includes three provisions that Norton said she could not support. The first is an “unthinkable provision” that would prevent D.C. from prohibiting people to carry guns — openly or concealed — in the District. The amendment would also allow gun owners to carry guns in the District without a permit, according to Norton.

“Consequently, a person in the District would be able to walk on the streets carrying an assault weapon slung over her shoulder or with concealed weapons,” Norton said.

The final provision states that neither city-controlled buildings nor commercial and residential buildings would have the right to prohibit or restrict guns.

The long-sought-after voting rights legislation has faced an uphill battle for years as Members argued its constitutionality, though it seemed poised to pass last year after the Democrats seized control of both chambers. The proposed bill would give D.C. a voting Member of Congress while also giving a temporary at-large seat to conservative-leaning Utah. The results of the 2010 Census would determine which state would get Utah’s temporary seat permanently.

The legislation passed the Senate in February 2009, but not before Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) attached an amendment that would restrict the District’s stringent gun laws and ultimately halt the bill in the House.

“We realize that the gun amendment in some ways is the perfect poison pill,” said Ilir Zherka, executive director of the nonprofit DC Vote. “It’s been poisonous, and it’s stalled the bill.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the author of the original assault weapons ban enacted in 1994, also spoke out against the proposed gun legislation.

“I believe the District will become much less safe, and the opportunity for criminals, mentally unstable persons and juveniles to purchase weapons will increase dramatically,” she said in a statement Tuesday morning.

Feinstein wasn’t the only Senator against the bill. Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) vowed to filibuster the bill if it reached the Senate floor. Hatch expressed concern over one Utah Representative having three times as many constituents as the other three.

“This legislation made a mockery of our system of federalism by dictating to the State of Utah how it chooses its elected representatives,” Hatch said in a statement Tuesday. “This type of arrogant, Washington-knows-best attitude is exactly why people are so angry, and why I’m glad this legislation will not move forward through the House.”

Norton said Hatch’s filibuster would have the support of his Republican colleagues, thereby diminishing the 60-vote majority that the legislation would need. Even so, she said she hasn’t given up hope.

“I will return to the trenches where I have always fought for my hometown to do all that I can to turn back these aggressors,” she said. “At the same time, I am full of promising ideas about how to move forward not only on voting rights, but on every right D.C. residents are entitled to as American citizens.”