The Republicans in the 115th U.S. Congress, with a sympathetic White House, are actively seeking to control the District of Columbia’s gun laws without the consent of the city.
Eleanor Holmes Norton is the District’s delegate to the U.S. Congress. (Courtesy Photo)
Congress has the authority to preside over the District according to Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. However, in 1973, Congress granted the District self-governing powers and the right to elect a mayor and a city council to manage the local government. Nevertheless, Congress has to approve all legislation passed by the D.C. Council and can pass a law without the consent of District leaders.
Since the new Congress took office on Jan. 3, Republicans have sponsored legislation and made statements regarding the District. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) have introduced a bill, the “Second Amendment Enforcement Act of 2015” that would remove the D.C. Council from enacting the city’s gun control measures; conform District law to federal law governing firearm sales; enable residents to obtain firearms from licensed dealers in Maryland and Virginia; repeal the gun registration requirement system; allow a more permissive system for residents to possess guns and watered down background checks, largely make firearm training optional, and allow private entities and public buildings to determine their firearm policies.
The bill would, as Rubio said in a statement, allow citizens to have guns for sporting and lawful defense and Jordan, in a statement, said the legislation “would make Washington, D.C. a safer place for law abiding citizens.” However, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) has taken issue with Rubio and Jordan’s bill.
“We intend to keep Sen. Rubio from walking over the principle of local control over local affairs while he uses federal authority to overturn the District’s duly-enacted local laws,” Norton said in a statement on Jan. 18. “As the nation’s capital, we have enacted gun safety laws that match the needs of our unique local jurisdiction, which hosts high-profile events, such as the presidential inauguration and houses high-profile federal officials and foreign dignitaries. Senator Rubio should stop trampling on D.C. home rule and focus on the needs of his own constituents.”
Until 2008, the District had one of the strongest gun regulations laws in the country. Essentially, a resident wasn’t allowed to own a handgun unless they were active or retired in the military and owned a firearm before the advent of Home Rule in 1973.
The Supreme Court overturned that law in 2008 in the case of District of Columbia vs. Heller, stating in its opinion that the District’s law was in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment which allows the right to bear arms. Since that time, the D.C. Council has enacted legislation that doesn’t prohibit its residents from owning a gun, but imposes requirements such as a thorough background check and firearms training.
The National Rifle Association, one of the most powerful lobbying groups on Capitol Hill, supports Rubio’s bill. An example of the lobbyist’s power is the U.S. House of Representatives passing a resolution on Feb. 2 that would lift most Obama administration imposed restrictions on people who have been diagnosed as mentally ill from buying and possessing firearms.
The Trump administration hasn’t made a comment on Rubio’s bill but the president was endorsed by the NRA on May 20, 2016. Throughout the 2016 campaign, Trump made it clear that he supports strong pro-gun legislation and that Americans should have the right to bear arms in the manner the NRA supports.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) told the AFRO on Feb. 6 at his monthly legislative press conference that “there is no question that congressional intervention has stepped up.”
“There is no question that they can do that but whether they ought to do that,” Mendelson said. The chairman said Congress has to look at managing the city wholly and not in bits and pieces as Rubio’s legislation does.
D.C. resident William Marrow has first-hand experience with the damage unfettered gun availability could do. His mother, Vivian Marrow, was killed Jan. 16, by a gunman, and her killer hasn’t been caught yet. “There are too many guns already,” Marrow said. “I am from the streets. People want to get guns to kill somebody like they killed my mom. His bill won’t stop this stuff. Guns will get in people’s hands no matter what he wants to do.”