- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 26, 2004

Utah Republican Sen. Orrin G. Hatch yesterday morning said he will introduce legislation that would lift the ban on resident gun ownership in the District, irking some Senate Democrats and D.C. officials.

If submitted, Mr. Hatch’s amendment would be part of the gun-immunity bill being debated on the Senate floor. The senator’s move comes after a call by President Bush for an amendment-free bill aimed at protecting gun manufacturers and dealers from frivolous lawsuits.

The District’s gun ban prohibits all non-law-enforcement entities from possessing a gun in the city and has been a target of Congress for years. Last year, Mr. Hatch, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, attached similar legislation to the D.C. budget, which is set and approved by Congress. But the effort failed when the amendment was removed in committee.

“I have indicated that I might introduce the bill, but haven’t decided yet,” Mr. Hatch told The Times yesterday.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Hatch said the senator’s first preference is to have a clean bill as the president requested, but he still is considering introducing the D.C. amendment.

The early morning announcement immediately drew the ire of D.C. elected officials.

“Whatever is happening with this larger gun issue — and my position is why should we treat the gun manufacturers any differently that we treat tobacco — but whatever we feel about that, why should the District be tied up in this? Ultimately, I feel optimistic that he will pull this amendment,” D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said yesterday on WTOP’s “Ask the Mayor” program.

Mr. Williams called Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist yesterday afternoon to discuss a way to keep the Hatch amendment off the floor but aides to Mr. Frist wouldn’t divulge the outcome of the conversation.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the District’s nonvoting representative, said she didn’t think that Mr. Hatch’s amendment would pass the Senate if introduced, given how it was received last year.

“I believe there is still hope that Senator Hatch may not press the bill and that, if he does, it may not prevail,” Mrs. Norton said.

Mrs. Norton said D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey reported that nearly 350 guns have been removed from D.C. streets in the first two months of this year. She said the Hatch amendment was bad timing and would be counterproductive to what the city police department has worked for.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, agreed and said her vote on the District’s gun ban is clear.

“I don’t want to overturn what D.C. has done. Absolutely not,” she said.

Earlier this week, the president asked Congress to pass a clean gun-immunity bill absent any language that dealt with lifting the assault-weapons ban and closing gun-show loopholes. Democrats accused Mr. Bush of flip-flopping on his support to extend the ban.

Despite the president’s request, the Senate Republican leadership brokered a deal late Wednesday with Democrats to consider several amendments after they realized a number of Democratic and Republican amendments lined up to be introduced had enough floor votes to pass. The Senate will vote on the full bill on Tuesday.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Maryland Democrat, introduced an amendment yesterday that would protect the litigation brought by family members of the victims of the D.C.-area snipers from the immunity bill.

Miss Mikulski said that the family members deserve their day in court and that anything that damages their case is “unjust.” But her measure failed, 56-40.

Mrs. Boxer submitted an amendment to make it mandatory that handguns be sold with child-safety locks. The amendment passed with ease, 70-27, with 25 Republicans voting for the addition.

She called the vote a “great victory” and a good sign that the assault-weapons ban also might get be added to the bill.

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