Campus Notebook: Battle for Concealed Firearms in D.C. Stalls

Posted October 14, 2011 at 5:18pm

An effort to allow gun owners from other states to carry concealed weapons in the District of Columbia was foiled last week in a surprise victory for D.C. statehood advocates.

But they warn that this battle is far from over, as pro-gun Republicans might try to overturn D.C.’s gun ban in other legislative arenas.

On Thursday, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) offered an amendment to a bill being considered by the House Judiciary Committee. The overall measure would allow people licensed to carry concealed guns to bring those firearms into other states that permit individuals to do so.

But Gohmert’s amendment would have made it so state-licensed gun owners could also bring concealed weapons into D.C., even though the District has no “concealed carry” laws.

“The District of Columbia violated constitutional rights of citizens to keep and bear arms,” Gohmert said, adding that in adopting his amendment, “we will do a great service here.”

Gohmert on Thursday had the support of two Republican colleagues on the committee, Reps. Steve King (Iowa) and Jim Jordan (Ohio).

But all of the other Republicans joined Democrats on the committee in voting against the amendment, surprising D.C. statehood activists who were all but sure it would be adopted.

“We’re pleasantly surprised,” said Ilir Zherka, executive director of DC Vote, “but we’re still scratching our heads a bit to figure out what happened.”

Gohmert told Roll Call that Republican leadership had instructed its party members not to vote for amendments that could compromise consideration and passage on the House floor.

“Most of my colleagues would probably have gone along with it under other circumstances,” Gohmert said, adding that the National Rifle Association had also said it would only support “a clean bill.”

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) acknowledged that his reasons for voting against Gohmert’s amendment were, in part, out of concern for the legislation’s future.

“It would have given critics a better chance to shoot the legislation down,” Franks said.

But other panel Republicans said their votes came down to concerns that the amendment was either an overreach or an underreach, given the scope of the underlying bill.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee overseeing D.C. affairs, voted “present.”

He explained that his vote reflected a feeling that he supported the general concept of Gohmert’s proposal but that this bill was not its appropriate vehicle: It would not give D.C. residents the right to carry concealed guns, only those with permits issued by other states.

“It is a good idea … [but] if D.C. residents will not receive the same reciprocity as nonresidents, then the mechanism by which to achieve the goal needs to be reviewed,” he said.

Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), another gun-rights supporter, agreed with Gowdy, though he took a more hard-line position with a “no” vote.

“What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, but it seems here like the goose is getting a gun and the gander is getting cooked,” he said.

Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) urged colleagues to vote against the amendment because he said it went beyond the scope of the underlying bill, which takes deference to states’ rights.

“By requiring the District of Columbia — a jurisdiction that does not currently allow any concealed carry permits — to recognize the concealed carry permits of nonresidents is at odds with an important tenet of this bill,” Smith said.

On Thursday evening, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) issued a statement praising the amendment’s defeat.

“This amendment took disrespect of the District to a new low,” Norton said.

Though she called it a “great victory,” she said D.C. activists must remain on the lookout for potential infringements on home rule rights.

“Continued vigilance will be key,” Norton said. “We have no illusions that the gun lobby will give up their efforts to overturn D.C.’s gun laws. They persist, even though two federal courts have upheld the constitutionality of D.C.’s revised gun laws.”

She cited a bill introduced by Jordan and Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) as one potential threat: If considered and passed, the measure would repeal D.C.’s current gun ban and allow all of its residents to carry concealed firearms. It currently has 166 co-sponsors, 24 of them Democrats.

And as far as Gohmert’s future course of action is concerned, Norton and Zherka expect him to seek other avenues for advancing the amendment.

He did not reveal Friday what specifically his next steps might be.

He did, though, pledge he would not give up his “fight to give Second Amendment rights to the residents of the District of Columbia.”

“You lose some battles,” he continued, “but you keep pushing so ultimately you can have everyone in the country be entitled to exercise their rights under the Constitution.”

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