- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 3, 2004

In 1976, Washington, D.C. instituted the strictest handgun ban in the nation. On Wednesday, the House voted 250-171 to repeal that ban. The prevailing side included 52 Democrats, and 22 Republicans cast no votes. Last week’s vote, however, was not about congressional intervention, the young blood being spilled on the streets or even the gun lobby, as opponents of the D.C. Personnel Protection Act would have you believe.

Whether people will exercise the right to ownahandgun is not at issue either. I even disagree with House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who said repealing the ban means “homes of this city will be safer when its law-abiding citizens are on an equal footing with its violent criminals.” That simply isn’t true.

Repealing the city’s handgun law means two things: Law-abiding D.C. citizens will be franchised with the Second Amendment right to bear arms; and D.C. citizens will be able to better defend themselves, their families and their property.

It’s the right thing to do at the right time. As the District’s motto says, “Justitia Omnibus,” or justice for all.

I stand with opponents when they say House Bill 3193 and its counterpart in the Senate, S. 1414, do not fully strip residents’ gun rights. The D.C. laws do indeed permit the ownership of rifles and shotguns. I also would agree with them that that legislation violates state’s rights — except the legislation is not being applied to a state. The capital is not a state; it is a federal district whose legislative and fiscal affairs rest with Congress.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, Mayor Tony Williams and Chuck Ramsey, the police chief, need to face those and other facts. One is that if Republicans had been the congressional majority in 1976, as they have been for the last decade, the handgun ban would never have made its way to the Ford White House.

Another fact is that the Democratic Congresses were indulgent to the extreme, going so far as to allow the city to spend its way into the poorhouse. So power-hungry were city leaders in the 1970s, and so lax was congressional oversight in the years after, that they accepted as “gifts” unfunded pension and entitlement programs that sucked up local tax dollars quicker than you could say home rule. By the time the 1990 census proved — yet again — that families were still in full flight to the suburbs, it was too late.

We had our handgun ban, but no middle class to pay our bills.

Times have changed. Middle-class taxpayers are returning. They are buying homes and their expendable incomes are shoring up new retail establishments. But Mrs. Norton and the other stakeholders are fools to think that the new residents — and the law-abiding ones who have hung in there over the years, fattening city coffers — are beholden to the same brand of leftist ideologies that dominated the 1970s and 1980s.

Anti-gun activists argue that the gun lobby drives the recent efforts to restore gun rights. Nothing could be further from the truth. What drives the gun-rights debate is the same motivation for justice that drove civil-rights activists to push for voting rights, fair housing and employment laws, etc.

Just as the Constitution does not quiver on its mandate of congressional oversight of D.C. affairs, so, too, the Bill of Rights articulates the people’s right to bear arms.

The D.C. handgun ban is so ridiculously strict that it even outlaws the possession of ammunition. The House bill would rescind that and other aspects of D.C. gun laws, including decriminalizing the right to possess a handgun in a person’s home or business. Both the House and Senate versions would prohibit D.C. officials from passing gun-control legislation in the future.

Hearts ache around the Beltway when we learn that yet another youth has been shot, but anti-gun activists are just plain wrong when they say guns are killing our young people. That’s another falsehood. Guns are not killing our young people; young people are killing our young people.

To look at it another way, the House measure does not repeal anything. What it does is restore a constitutional right that citizens in each of the 50 states already enjoy; the right to own a handgun to defend life, limb and property. The Senate bill moves along that same rail, but it likely will not reach the floor this session, since Election Day draws nearer. That is a huge disappointment.

What local politicians must bear in mind is this is not the Washington, D.C., that educated young Eleanor Catherine Norton, and it is not the Washington that voted her into Congress in 1990. We have congressional Republicans, and, ironically, Mrs. Norton, Tony Williams and Chief Ramsey to thank for that.

While policy-makers and law enforcers continue to grapple with violence in particular, and youth violence in general, anti-gun folks need to face the fact that, although Washington has changed, the Second Amendment has not.

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