- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The House of Representatives yesterday voted in favor of repealing the District’s restrictions on gun ownership and registration, a week after similar legislation was shelved in the Senate.

Despite a contentious hour-long debate, the outcome was never in doubt. The bill, titled the D.C. Personal Protection Act, passed 250-171, with 52 Democrats joining 198 Republicans. The bill had 229 co-sponsors: 185 Republicans and 44 Democrats.

“There were no surprises in this vote,” said Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the District’s nonvoting representative in Congress, who led the charge against the legislation in the House and the Senate.

Mrs. Norton passionately argued on the House floor against the bill and later called the vote a “symbolic victory.”

She said many of the Democrats who voted in favor of the repeal support the District’s right to self-government but represent rural districts that oppose gun control. Mrs. Norton also said the Democrats who voted in favor knew the bill would have little chance of advancing in the Senate before the session ends Oct. 8.

“But I cannot afford to believe” the Senate will not revive the legislation, said Mrs. Norton, who vowed after the vote to resume lobbying senators. “We certainly aren’t safe until the final gavel falls on the 108th Congress.”

Rep. Mark Souder, an Indiana Republican and the principal sponsor of the bill, said yesterday’s vote was worthwhile, even without action in the Senate.

“We advanced the national point that gun control is ineffective,” said Mr. Souder, who did not concede the vote was symbolic.

“I would have had no problem bringing this up in January,” he said. “I have no problem bringing it up now. And if the Senate doesn’t vote on it, we’ll be back.”

Supporters of the Senate bill abandoned their plans to bring the legislation to a vote last week, fearing the resulting debate would stall business before adjournment for the November elections.

Mr. Souder said the Senate version has 34 cosponsors, but he acknowledged the senators would unlikely revive the legislation as a free-standing bill or as a rider to other legislation.

“The odds are difficult at the end of the session,” he said. “I know if we could get a vote, we could get it passed in the Senate.”

The bill would amend restrictions in place since 1976 to allow gun ownership by people other than police, arson investigators, and military and security personnel. But it would leave in place a ban on sawed-off shotguns, short-barreled rifles and machine guns.

House members who supported the bill said on the floor yesterday that the District’s consistently high homicide rate is connected to the ban on firearms, and pointed out that the number of homicides was decreasing in the 1970s until the ban was imposed. They also argued that the bill would allow law-abiding citizens to defend themselves while continuing to punish criminals who possess or commit new crimes with guns.

Opponents of the bill argued that allowing more people to own firearms would not curb rampant gun violence in the city and that loosening gun restrictions would be inconsistent with efforts to make the District safer since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, a Virginia Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform, which has oversight of the D.C. government, objected to the bill as a blatant assault on the District’s right to home rule.

“For our system of federalism to work, states and localities need to be able to make their own decisions,” he said.

The bill is opposed by D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, all 13 City Council members and Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey.

“If you’ve got a fire, you don’t pour gasoline on it,” Chief Ramsey said about the argument that gun restrictions have been ineffective. “There’s no law that’s 100 percent effective. … That doesn’t mean you get rid of gun laws.”

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