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In Wake of Gun Ruling, D.C. Vote Advocates Push On

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said she is confident that Monday’s Supreme Court ruling will not affect proposed D.C. voting rights legislation or the District’s gun laws.

“Wherever people are on guns, I can tell you as a person who spent her life in the law — especially constitutional law — that it is very hard to make the argument after this decision that D.C.’s gun laws are unconstitutional,” Norton said.

Nevertheless, in a 5-4 decision that calls gun ownership a fundamental right that cannot be obstructed by local and state governments, the court did extend an individual’s right to bear arms, a long-controversial topic in Washington, D.C.

In many ways the ruling expanded on the court’s decision in Heller v. District of Columbia, which supported the right to bear arms for the purpose of self-defense and declared Washington’s handgun ban unconstitutional. After this ruling, the D.C. Council passed stringent laws regarding where and how a handgun could be stored in residents’ homes.

“Obviously [the vote for D.C. is] blocked by a gun amendment that goes far beyond yesterday’s Supreme Court decision,” Norton said. “We continue to press our colleagues to let the bill pass while allowing the district to govern itself.”

The National Rifle Association has long opposed the new D.C. gun laws and enlisted the help of pro-gun Members of Congress. In addition, the NRA has repeatedly supported an amendment that would pare down the city’s gun laws and be attached to the long-sought-after D.C. voting rights bill. The amendment has successfully stalled the bill, despite the fact that it passed the Senate last year.

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

The voting rights legislation, which would give D.C. a voting Representative in Congress while also giving conservative-leaning Utah an additional seat in the House, was poised to hit the House floor earlier this spring, but it was yanked from the calendar after news of the gun amendment surfaced.

At the time, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) 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.”

As the 111th Congress winds down and Members plan to spend less time in D.C. and more time on the campaign trail, the bill is not on the legislative calendar, though Hoyer remains committed to passing the legislation.

“We can consider it once a solution emerges on how to move it without guns,” said a Democratic aide familiar with the issue.

While some might be frustrated by the lack of action on the legislation, Norton said she finds the process “energizing” rather than discouraging.

“The voting rights legislation has been overwhelmingly passed in both houses and is currently blocked,” Norton said. “Everybody knows that’s not dead because any bill that has overwhelming support in the House and Senate could not be dead.”

Despite these setbacks, advocates of the voting rights legislation plan to keep on protesting, visiting Congress and working to pass the legislation.

“We are motivated by the American democratic ideal, which we will not achieve as a nation until all citizens are represented,” said Ilir Zherka, executive director of grass-roots organization DC Vote. “I am determined to help bring America closer to a true, full democracy by giving Washingtonians full voting representation in Congress and full local control over local issues.”

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