- The Washington Times - Monday, September 20, 2004

What’s going on when the president of a regional business group, the head of the city’s labor unions, the police chief, a school activist, youth advocates, a Southeast minister, a congressional delegate and the mother of a murdered boy speak with one voice?

When Marita Michael, the mother of that murdered boy, and Iris Toyer, the mother of a police officer, are in agreement, you have to take notice of this broad-based coalition.

The usually divergent views from these various sectors of the city stood in unison yesterday on Capitol Hill as Citizens to Save D.C. Gun Safety Laws to voice their opposition to the meddlesome move by congressional overseers to repeal the District’s 30-year-old handgun ban.

“I get so fired up,” said Ms. Michael, whose son, Devin Fowlkes, was killed outside Anacostia High School last October. “These congressmen sit up here on the Hill and dictate to us. How can they say what’s best for us? Their children don’t go to public schools, and they don’t have to ride public buses. [Instead,] they go to private schools and ride in limos.”

Ms. Michael, who is speaking out “to save lives,” like that of her 15-year-old daughter, who attends Roosevelt High School, said the gun-loving congressmen “need to take that walk [in her neighborhood] and maybe they’ll change their minds.”

Easier access to legalized weapons will lead only to more shootings, she said.

Lori Kaplan, director of the Latin American Youth Center in Adams Morgan and also a member of the Citizens to Save D.C. Gun Safety Laws, said her youth group, which trains teen mediators, was beginning to see progress in reducing crime. She finds the attempted gun-ban repeal “really irresponsible.”

“Nobody wants more guns on our streets. You can’t find support for it anywhere,” said Ms. Kaplan, whose children also attend D.C. schools.

Well, somebody wants this deadly repeal. Even Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee that has oversight of the District, conceded that the free-standing bill to repeal the handgun ban is a done deal in his chamber.

“Members are going to vote their districts,” Mr. Davis answered to a question I asked him during a radio broadcast Friday. “This has very little to do with the District.”

That is unbelievable disrespect. D.C. residents are caught in the congressional political crossfire again. But the leaders of the Citizens to Save D.C. Gun Safety Laws said this time they are “fighting back,” even though they have no vote in Congress, because this latest intrusion is a matter of life and death.

Do the deaths of 14 D.C. children in less than a year mean nothing to the political ideologues, who do not live here and are not accountable to mothers such as Ms. Michael, Ms. Kaplan and Mrs. Toyer? Apparently not.

The District needs more guns on its streets like Florida needs another hurricane. Under the guise of Second Amendment rights, the handgun-ban repeal — supported by the powerful National Rifle Association — is designed to get congressional representatives, especially Democrats, on the record about this hot issue before the November elections, according to Mr. Davis and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.

The ban also is gaining steam in the Senate. It was scheduled to be voted on today as an attachment to the city’s $8.2 billion budget appropriation, until D.C. coalition members learned yesterday during their press conference that Idaho Republican Sen. Larry E. Craig “had backed down,” Mrs. Norton said. His chief of staff offered temporary assurance that the senator “would hold off” until the House vote is taken.

Still, the meeting “wasn’t enough” for Ms. Michael. “His aide just pampered us, and I need to hear from the senator,” she said.

Mrs. Norton said it makes a big difference when congressional meddlers must face the local residents, such as Ms. Michael, who are affected by their political agendas.

“One thing we shouldn’t do is suffer from the mentality of second-class citizenship even though Congress treats us like second-class citizens,” Mrs. Norton said. “We should not underestimate our ability to fight back.”

Ms. Michael joked about how much security there is around the U.S. Capitol at the same time the congressmen are voting to repeal the gun ban, which will mean more guns on D.C. streets. “They care about protecting themselves. They don’t care about the people,” she said.

Mrs. Norton is not amused. “It is particularly outrageous that with our city on an orange terrorist alert, House Republicans are seeking to allow the introduction even of military-style weapons into the nation’s capital, first by allowing the nationwide ban to expire and now by leaving this city wide open to the use and sale of guns.”

One minute, the political hot potato is school vouchers or “scholarships,” which Congress pushes on the District. The next minute, it’s the needle-exchange program designed to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, with Congress keeping the District from spending its own taxpayer dollars. Just wait when, or if, the District’s congressional overlords get their hands on the seedy slots initiative.

Think for a second about the inequality of this egregious situation, in which 435 congressional representatives and 100 senators can repeal local legislation that not a single legislator duly elected by the people from that locality is allowed to vote on.

If ever there were a surefire example of why the residents of the nation’s capital need to be granted their full democratic rights in Congress, it’s the Quick Draw McGraw repeal of the District’s 30-year-old handgun ban.

It ought to be shot down at sunrise.

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