National and city lawmakers battle over D.C. gun law restrictions

Tensions between Capitol Hill and the D.C. City Council escalated last week as lawmakers tried to settle D.C. handgun restrictions in the wake of the historic overturn of the city’s 32-year-old ban in June.

Heads are butting over whether the District or federal government should be in charge of delineating those regulations, resulting in a battle over D.C. sovereignty for some and the Second Amendment right to bear arms for others.

A bill that would limit the District’s ability to regulate firearms passed in the House of Representatives Tuesday just hours after Mayor Adrian Fenty signed into law a similar bill that would relax some of D.C.’s proposed restrictions, though by a smaller measure than the House bill.

The City Council’s proposal – which was signed in as emergency legislation and took effect immediately – allows D.C. residents to own semiautomatic handguns while maintaining restrictions on semiautomatic rifles. Some members of Congress say the D.C. bill is still too restrictive, however.

“The legislation passed by the D.C. Council in response to the (June) decision clearly violates the holding of the Supreme Court that law-abiding D.C. residents have a right to keep a firearm for self-defense,” Rep. Travis Childers, D-Miss., said in a statement.

Childers supported the final version of the National Rifle Association-backed House measure, which would do away with registration requirements for many firearms and legalize the possession of all semiautomatic weapons.

Opposition to the House bill has come mainly from advocates for D.C. voting rights, who branded recent actions as attempts to violate D.C. residents’ right to self-governance.

“Instead of allowing the courts to work out the appropriate balance for gun regulation in the wake of the (June Supreme Court) decision, Congress is attempting to overrule D.C.’s local laws,” said a statement from D.C. Vote, a District voting rights group.

The legislation’s success in the House is hinged largely upon the support of conservative and moderate Democrats, especially those facing close re-election campaigns this fall. The bill is not expected to be signed into law.

“I doubt the bill will pass the Senate,” wrote Donald Braman, a GW Law School professor familiar with gun control issues, in an e-mail.

Braman added, “It’s an easy way for politicians to score points with the base.”

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