- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 26, 2004

Talk about bad timing. Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, couldn’t have picked a worse moment to push for repeal of the District’s handgun ban.

“It’s a national disgrace right after we have lost a child in school and a child just outside of school to have this bill to repeal handguns in the District go forward,” D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat, said yesterday.

Mrs. Norton is known to have a short fuse, but yesterday she seemed absolutely frantic with worry that the amendment could be voted on as soon as today.

She learned only late Tuesday night, by glancing at a Senate calendar, of the District’s gun laws being added to the gun manufacturer liability bills working their way through Congress. With so little notice, Mrs. Norton called an ally and asked, “What am I going to do?” No one had bothered to give her a courtesy call alerting her of the attachment. And no one bothered to give D.C. residents — with no vote in Congress — the opportunity to speak at a public hearing on a critical measure that has a great impact their daily lives.

Herein lies the practical ramifications of the District’s nonvoting status in the nation’s legislature.

“This was not [a time] for letters, not for phone calls; this is a face-to-face thing,” she said of the urgency. So, Mrs. Norton brought out her own big guns, — D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey — to take aim at the late-night amendment that could bring more firearms to city streets.

“We didn’t have an appointment, but I took the mayor and the chief into Senator Hatch’s office, and we [said], ‘Please, don’t do this, not now,’” Mrs. Norton said of their impassioned plea.

D.C. residents and leaders are still reeling from the fatal shooting this month inside Ballou High School that claimed the life of football player James Richardson.

His shocking death and the shooting of an Anacostia High School student a few months earlier come on the heels of a rash of brazen gun-related crimes that are dishonoring the city yet again.

“The best way to increase D.C.’s murder rate would be to repeal the city’s gun safety law,” Mrs. Norton said. “The Hatch bill doesn’t even stop with gun possession at home but would allow a loaded gun at work or on any property a person owned.” Not only would such a measure put residents, visitors and workers at additional risk, the amendment also would repeal the ban on semiautomatic weapons and ammunition as well as the gun registration requirements, she said.

While residents have been rightly clamoring for more police protection, even increased police patrols inside schools, I have yet to hear any local residents calling for a repeal of the handgun ban.

Mrs. Norton said Chief Ramsey, who has consistently supported gun-control measures including the city’s handgun ban, presented good facts and statistics detailing why the ban works well, especially in cities with “a culture of violence,” as he is prone to say.

“In big cities, guns mean homicide,” she said, reiterating the chief’s argument.

Police have taken 350 guns off D.C. streets in the first two months of this year, far surpassing last year’s take, Chief Ramsey said.

“I don’t know what happens in Utah, but this is a violent city,” Mrs. Norton said, referring to Mr. Hatch’s home state. “I am especially concerned about the children, about domestic violence and about acquaintance squabbles.”

Mrs. Norton thanked Mr. Hatch for listening to her hastily pulled together posse, but he offered no promises to squash the amendment. Her only hope is that letters and lobbyists working against the amendment will prevail should it come up for a vote within the next week.

However, derailing the repeal won’t happen “without a lot of work.”

Again, the District is caught in the cross fire of a national political agenda, just as with school vouchers, in which it is used as a laboratory for bills it may not want but cannot fight because it has no political clout.

The National Rifle Association has more clout in this gun-control battle than do the majority of D.C. residents who favor handgun control.

Mrs. Norton pointed out that congressional leaders tried to repeal the District’s handgun ban before when it was attached as a rider to the bills to ban assault weapons.

“All I’m saying is that we don’t belong in that fight,” Mrs. Norton contends.

No matter, the District’s handgun ban is an NRA target, and if D.C. residents want to dodge this bullet they had better get busy with the other citizen groups and gun-control advocates to lobby Congress against passing this late-night, backdoor deal.

With a city still grieving over senseless school slayings, now is the worst time to make guns an accessory on crime-ridden streets.

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