- The Washington Times - Monday, September 20, 2004

Leaders from the District’s political, religious and civic communities joined forces yesterday to fight an effort in Congress to repeal the city’s gun laws.

“Irresponsible extremists in Congress are trying to make the nation’s capital a free-fire zone,” said Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.

Mrs. Norton, a Democrat who can vote in committee but does not have a vote in the full House, invited the leaders of the group Citizens to Save D.C. Gun Safety Laws for an afternoon of lobbying designed to turn back what she described as a politically motivated assault on home rule and public safety.

“If the United States Capitol can be handgun free, why can’t we?” Hannah Hawkins asked rhetorically. Miss Hawkins runs a family support program in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. She was among the activists who noted that taxicabs were checked for weapons before they were allowed to approach the congressional office complex.

“The last thing we need is reinforcing those old perceptions that this is a crime area,” said Robert A. Peck, president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, warning the legislation could hurt the region’s economy.

The D.C. Personal Protection Act would rescind existing prohibitions covering handguns and semiautomatic and automatic weapons. It would allow residents to keep weapons in their homes and places of business.

Versions of the measure pending in both the House and Senate would prohibit locally elected officials from passing future gun-control legislation.

The measure has about 60 co-sponsors in the House and 19 in the Senate.

“The bill will restore the rights of law-abiding citizens to protect themselves and to defend their families against murderous predators,” said a spokeswoman for Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican.

“It is time to tell the citizens of the District of Columbia that the Second Amendment of the Constitution applies to them.”

However, not everyone agrees. Jocelyn N. Williams of the Central Labor Council representing 150,000 union members in the region, said repeal of the gun ban is not in the interests of residents, commuters or visitors.

“Twenty children and youth have been lost to gun violence this year, and more have been wounded,” said Lori M. Kaplan, executive director of the Latin American Youth Center in the Columbia Heights neighborhood in Northwest.

While the city’s homicide rate has declined by 55 percent over the past decade, killings among young people have escalated in recent months.

“Easier access to deadly weapons is not the answer to lowering the rate of violent juvenile death,” Miss Kaplan said.

“So many young children in this city are losing their lives for nothing,” said Marita Michael, the mother of Devin Fowlkes, 16, who died Oct. 30, after he was shot outside Anacostia High School.

Devin was not the intended target of the 15-year-old found responsible for his death.

She pointed to a sign listing the names of 14 children killed by guns in the city through May and noted it included six of her son’s friends.

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