- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 2, 2004

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton yesterday scrambled to derail legislation that would repeal the city’s long-standing ban on handguns, which could be introduced today in the Senate.

Mrs. Norton and Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey yesterday held a news conference at police headquarters, where officials displayed more than 100 of the 385 handguns seized in the city since Jan. 1.

Mrs. Norton, the District’s nonvoting congressional representative, said repealing the gun ban would exacerbate the District’s problems with gun violence. When a reporter asked why she supports a ban that “is not working,” the Democratic lawmaker said, “You could have three times as many guns if not for the gun-control laws.”

The District bans private ownership of handguns, handgun ammunition and semiautomatic weapons, and requires special licenses and registration for rifles and shotguns. A rider that would repeal the handgun ban is expected to be included in a bill that would limit the liability of gun manufacturers for deaths and injuries caused by their products.

After the news conference, Mrs. Norton escorted two city residents who have lost children to gun violence into the congressional offices of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, and demanded a meeting to voice their opposition to the Republican leadership’s consideration of the proposed amendment.

The senator’s chief of staff, Lee Rawls, met with Mrs. Norton and listened as city resident Marita Michael spoke about her son, Devin Fowlkes, who was fatally shot outside Anacostia High School on Oct. 30.

“I just let them know that they’re making it easier for kids to take other kids’ lives,” Miss Michael said. “It’s no disrespect to the Senate, but none of them live in Southeast Washington.”

A 15-year-old Anacostia student is charged with second-degree murder in Devin’s death.

Mrs. Norton said the meeting had alleviated some of her concerns. “The good news is that this amendment is not guaranteed to go forward. … If this bill gets turned around, it will be because of what I witnessed in that room,” she said.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, first introduced a repeal of the ban in July, when he attached similar legislation to the D.C. budget. That amendment was removed in committee.

Last week, Mr. Hatch said he would attach an amendment to the bill that would protect gun makers from frivolous lawsuits, even though President Bush has said he wants the bill to pass without amendments.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Hatch yesterday said he has not decided whether to introduce the amendment.

“He has not made a decision yet, but he’s hoping for a clean bill,” said Margarita Tapia, Mr. Hatch’s spokeswoman.

It’s not likely that Mr. Hatch will introduce the amendment unless he feels the need to counteract Democratic amendments to the bill, sources said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, said she would have “very strong opposition” to repealing the District’s gun ban.

“I don’t think we should be doing anything to counteract the District’s ban while we’re fighting for an assault-weapons ban,” she said.

Since 1976, the District has forbidden practically everyone but law enforcement officers from owning handguns. Rifles and shotguns require licensing and special registration.

The ban has withstood several attempts at overturning it. Gun-rights activists have pointed to the District’s problems with violent crime and homicide.

But Chief Ramsey, citing statistics that attribute 80 percent of last year’s 248 homicides to handguns, said repealing the ban would make crime worse. “There is nothing good that I imagine could come from this,” he said.

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