June 30, 2005

House measure renews assault on D.C.’s gun ban law

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representativesdealt a blow to Washington, D.C.'s strict gun control law onThursday when it passed an amendment that would effectivelyallow fully assembled rifles and pre-1976 handguns to be keptin city homes.

The amendment to an appropriations bill for federalsubsidies for the District of Columbia prohibits the funds frombeing used to enforce certain sections of the city's29-year-old gun control law.

Passed by a vote of 259-161, the measure submitted byIndiana Republican Rep. Mark Souder does not go as far as hisrecently introduced legislation to revoke Washington's 1976 banon handguns and semiautomatic weapons, but it indicatescontinuing strong House support for such a measure.

The House voted by a similar margin last year to revoke thecapital's handgun ban, but the measure went nowhere because theSenate failed to act.

A new hand gun repeal bill in the Senate, sponsored byTexas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, may gain moresupport this year, but its success is far from certain.

The House vote came just two days after Mayor AnthonyWilliams told a House committee the Souder bill was "a slap inthe face to me and the people who live in this city."

City officials argue that Washington, with its chronicallyhigh murder rate, will see gun crime rise further if guns areallowed to be freely sold and kept in the city.

Currently, rifles and shotguns and handguns registeredbefore the 1976 ban may be kept in District homes only if theyare unloaded, disassembled and stored in a locked cabinet.

Souder argued that this makes them useless for self-defenseand his amendment prohibits the city from enforcing this lawwith federal funds.

His bill would roll back the handgun ban and registrationrequirements for ammunition and would decriminalize possessionof unregistered weapons. Similar legislation has been proposedby Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas.

"I believe the constitutional right to bear arms supersedeslocal authority," Souder said in favor of his amendment.

Opponents argued unsuccessfully that constitutionalprovisions for home rule should prevail. Rep. Tom Davis, aRepublican from northern Virginia who is often supportive ofD.C. policies, said he agreed with the right to bear arms, but"it really goes to respecting the rights of the District ofColumbia to make their laws."

"Once we start doing everything out of Washington, it maybe on your side tomorrow," Davis said.