The House Judiciary Committee easily defeated a proposal Thursday that would have allowed out-of-state residents to bring concealed weapons into the District, an unusual vote in which conservative members put their allegiance to states' rights ahead of their frequent forays into D.C. affairs.
The proposal by Rep. Louie Gohmert, Texas Republican, was voted down 24-3 after GOP members raised concerns that the amendment would be contained in a bill designed to respect individual jurisdictions' gun laws.
"I believe this is a debate best saved for another day and another bill," said Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican and chairman of the committee. "There's an old saying that the right thing at the wrong time is no longer the right thing."
Rep. Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Republican and chairman of the House subcommittee with oversight of D.C. affairs, voted "present" on Mr. Gohmert's amendment.
"It was a combination of my preference to deal with D.C. gun laws in another vehicle and a general belief that the Second Amendment is just as important as the other nine amendments in the Bill of Rights and should not be subject to the vagaries of 50 different interpretations — 51 if you include the District," he said.
D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray and other local officials are highly critical of any attempt by Congress to regulate the city's affairs, and the proposal arrived two days before advocates plan to march this weekend in support of full D.C. voting rights. In a statement, Mr. Gray called Mr. Gohmert's plan "a blatant attack on our autonomy."
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District's non-voting member of Congress, sounded the alarm when she learned of the amendment Wednesday night, labeling it "dangerous."
"It seems to me at some point such a bill would be stopped," she said.
Congressional interference in the District's local affairs often takes the form of a legislative rider on larger appropriations bills. Recently, one such rider from the Republican-controlled House banned the District from using its local dollars to fund abortions.
So Mr. Gohmert sparked another outcry from city leaders when he proposed his amendment to the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011.
The overall bill would allow people with a permit to carry a concealed weapon to enjoy that privilege in any state that also allows concealed carry, but not in jurisdictions that prohibit concealed carry.
The bill mentions the District of Columbia v. Heller, a landmark 2008 Supreme Court case that found the District's longstanding ban on handguns unconstitutional.
Mr. Gohmert proposed an amendment that exempts the District from the proposed law, allowing people with state-issued permits to carry concealed guns in the city even though the practice is prohibited by D.C. law. He admitted he was torn by the broader issue of states' rights, yet "those concerns differ when it comes to the District of Columbia."
Mr. Gohmert said he has been a friend to the District in the past — he proposed a bill that would allow D.C. residents to forego federal taxation because they do not have a voice on Capitol Hill — yet he referred Thursday to the city government as a "subbody that Congress created."
He cited the Second Amendment and a failure by the D.C. government to abide by the Heller decision in arguing his amendment would "do a great service to the people here, so it's not just the outlaws here that have guns."
Rep. Ted Poe, Texas Republican, noted the amendment would only allow residents from other jurisdictions to enjoy greater gun rights in the District, without expanding the rights of D.C residents.
"What's good for the goose is good for the gander," Mr. Poe said. "And it seems like the gander is getting the gun and the goose is getting cooked."
Several left-leaning members of the committee also raised objections about the intrusion on the District's home rule.
"To open this question and override or not collaborate with the mayor and members of the city council is arrogant on our part," Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, Texas Democrat, said. "We can't use the District of Columbia as a laboratory."
The committee recessed debate on the overall bill until Friday morning.
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