As many rally today in the heart of Washington, DC in the name of the Second Amendment, DC residents are waiting to find out if they will finally have the same Second Amendment rights as the rest of the country. If you thought the successful DC v. Heller case was the end of the debate over the District’s gun laws, it was only the beginning.
The Supreme Court heard a relatively narrow question about whether the District’s gun ban & trigger lock requirements violated the individual right to self-defense in the Heller case. They agreed those two provisions did clearly violate the Second Amendment. But local officials in DC decided to violate the spirit of the ruling by going back to the drawing board with its gun laws to make them as restrictive as they thought possible. The city’s new rules cost nearly $900 and take about 16 hours to register a single gun for possession in the home. (There is no right to carry in the District.) The rules require at least four trips to the police station, a five-hour course, an exam, and multiple background checks. For a resident looking to defend themselves in the city with one of the highest crime rates in the nation, they better have deep wallets and lots of time on their hands.
When members of Congress saw how the city was abusing its authority, they decided to act on relevant legislation that was moving rather than waiting on another court battle. (The Heller case was initially filed in February 2003 and did not see conclusion until June 2008.) Senator John Ensign (R-NV) rounded up 22 of his fellow pro-gun colleagues in the Senate to introduce an amendment to a DC voting rights bill that was ready to pass. The Second Amendment Enforcement Act would remove the burdens placed on gun owners by the local bureaucrats and merely impose current federal laws that applies to the rest of the country. In other words, DC politicos could no longer profit on the backs of gun owners to the tune of nearly a thousand dollars, nor could they impose default waiting periods full of redundant paperwork and multiple trips to the licensing office.
The Second Amendment Enforcement Act passed the Senate with an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 62-36 on February 26, 2009.
However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was outraged by the vote and put a stop to the bill in the House when it was discovered that pro-gun Democrats would support the Second Amendment Enforcement Act. The bill has since languished for more than a year since arriving in the House.
With the rising tide against incumbents threatening to end the House majority and significantly weaken the Senate majority, DC officials have decided to throw in the towel and agree to honor the Second Amendment by allowing a vote on the bill. Though given the steadfast opposition to any pro-Second Amendment language by the House leadership, it is important for gun owners to keep an eye on the bill.
In fact, if the Washington Post‘s Sunday editorial is any indication of how the leadership may feel about the issue, gun owners can expect shenanigans in the lead up to any vote.
House Democratic leaders plan to bring to the floor as early as Wednesday a bill to give the District a voting member in the House. Similar legislation passed a year ago in the Senate, but an odious amendment was attached that gutted D.C. gun control laws, stalling the momentum for voting rights. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the District’s non-voting House member, said that she reluctantly concluded over these many months that there was no way to scrub the gun language from the bill. Political realities — the gun lobby’s clout, Democrats’ pessimism about the fall election, declining incentive for an arrangement that gives a companion seat to Utah — are cited to buttress the argument that this is the best, perhaps last, chance for voting rights.
We have the utmost respect for Ms. Norton; she has worked valiantly over the years to protect the city’s gun laws from assaults from the National Rifle Association, so we know how difficult this decision was for her.
In a final insult, [the bill] would prohibit local officials from passing any law that could “discourage” gun possession.
The Washington Post considers it an “insult” that government officials should not be allowed to use their authority to work against the Constitution. There is little doubt that some of their friends in Congress feel the same way about situation and will work to change it this week.
Finally, for those who raise the argument that the underlying bill – the DC Voting Rights Act – is unconstitutional, that issue is coming into play during these debates. The Washington Post notes that because the issue of DC residents who do not actually reside in a state will now have representation in the House, there will likely be lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the bill. With the language of the bill and amendment, the Second Amendment Enforcement Act could still survive a court challenge even if the DC Voting Rights section is thrown out. All-in-all, gun owners need to make sure they pay attention to the debate so DC residents can have their gun rights respected – rather than trampled – by local bureaucrats.