Late Monday, the ten-year ban on assault weapons expired after Congress failed to renew the law. For a city like Washington, D.C. – which is dubiously honored with consistently high murder rates – the renewed presence of assault weapons could tank years of work toward reducing rates of gun violence. Perhaps even more significant for crime in the District, Rep. Mark Souder from Indiana proposed a bill in the House of Representatives prescribing a repeal of all of D.C. gun control laws. This bill represents not only a serious threat to public safety in the District, but also serves as another affront to D.C. home rule.
Washington, D.C. is home to some of the nation’s most stringent gun control legislation. It requires registration of handguns and ammunitions, provides stricter penalties for crimes committed using guns and restrictions on private handgun ownership. While these measures no doubt lessen crime, the District still suffers from high gun crime levels. Critics maintain that these laws offer no protection against gun crimes and merely infringe on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens. This page argues, however, that no right is absolute; historically, certain individual rights have been balanced with the rights of public safety. There is no doubt that if all gun control laws in the District are repealed, gun crimes and murder rates would skyrocket.
The entire situation is an affront to over 30 years of D.C. home rule. It is antithetical to American political tradition to allow a group of people not elected by a population to manage its affairs. While Congress is empowered constitutionally to govern Washington, D.C., it should not be able to wantonly reverse the will of D.C. residents. Who is to say that a Congressman from Indiana has the best interest of District residents in mind when proposing such an initiative? The District either needs to be granted statehood, or reach a Constitutional arrangement providing representation and increased autonomy.
Fortunately for District residents, it is unlikely that this initiative will become law. The larger issue of D.C. home rule, however, is unlikely to fade in importance. It is critical both that the District receive congressional representation and the ultimate control of its own affairs. Not doing so betrays the values that have distinguished the United States throughout its history.