Updated 3:12 p.m. | Activists on the national and local level are gearing up for the ensuing gun fight surrounding amendments to the Senate’s bipartisan hunting and fishing legislation, especially a proposal related to firearm control in the District of Columbia.
They view an amendment introduced by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., on Tuesday afternoon that would restrict the D.C. Council’s authority to regulate firearms and handguns in the District as a threat to home rule.
“Senator Paul is at it again,” said DC Vote Executive Director Kimberly Perry, reacting to the news that the libertarian lawmaker and potential 2016 presidential candidate is once again pushing to uproot the District’s gun policies. In 2012, Paul’s proposed gun-related amendments helped sink a Senate bill that would have granted D.C. budget autonomy from Congress.
“He continues to be hypocritical in the fact that he’s ignoring his own local government advocacy,” Perry continued, pointing out that Paul’s proclaimed support for state’s rights and local control seemed to conflict with his drive to overturn legislation passed by District officials.
While the senator’s amendment says it would repeal D.C.’s semiautomatic ban, there is no ban on registering semiautomatic weapons in the District. Current law bans registration of sawed-off shotguns, machine guns and short-barreled rifles. Paul’s amendment would end that ban and make legal assault weapons and certain rifles considered unsafe in D.C. code.
Overall, Paul’s amendment targets D.C. gun policies that were recently reaffirmed by a federal judge as consistent with the Second Amendment. The May ruling , hailed by D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Mayor Vincent Gray, was a follow-up to the 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia v. Heller that struck down D.C.’s ban on handgun possession.
In a statement issued Wednesday, Norton accused Paul of attacking home rule and pointed out that House conservatives are waging a similar battle in the other chamber. Paul pitches the proposal as a way to enhance public safety. The text of his amendment states: “The District of Columbia has the highest per capita murder rate in the Nation, which may be attributed in part to local laws prohibiting possession of firearms by law-abiding persons who would otherwise be able to defend themselves and their loved ones in their own homes and businesses.”
Brian Malte, senior national policy director for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said in an interview that Congress has “no business” trying to regulate public safety issues.
“The District of Columbia has very good and strong gun laws that are in place to protect the public,” Malte said, adding that the Brady Campaign wants to see Congress expand background checks on gun purchases, rather than dismantle existing laws.
Malte said gun safety advocates are assessing the situation right now, and would be calling up their allies to let them know about Paul’s “terrible amendment” and “other terrible amendments” that Republicans were trying to attach to the sportsmen’s bill.
During remarks on the Senate floor Wednesday morning, Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said he welcomes the gun debate and will offer an amendment that would stiffen penalties for those who buy a firearm for someone else who commits a crime.
“Girlfriends, wake up,” he said.
Sarah Chacko contributed to this report.