- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 4, 2009

The nation’s capital would be more vulnerable to a terrorist attack if the District’s gun laws were weakened, the city’s attorney general said Friday.

Peter J. Nickles testified before a House subcommittee examining the potential effect of a gun amendment attached to legislation that would give the District its first full vote in Congress.

The measure sponsored by Sen. John Ensign, Nevada Republican, would repeal the city’s strict gun registration requirements and restrictions on semiautomatic weapons.

“The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, demonstrated something that we have known for some time: government facilities, dignitaries and public servants are prime targets for terrorists,” Mr. Nickles said. “As a result, it would seem to me the District is the last place where residents across the country would want to allow assault weapons.”

Mr. Nickles testified on behalf of Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier, who was unable to attend Friday’s hearing because of a family emergency. Chief Lanier testified that she had “grave concerns” when a similar bill was considered by Congress last year.

Friday’s hearing, led by Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the city’s nonvoting member of Congress, comes as Democratic leaders plot how to move the voting rights bill forward in the House. The Senate has already passed the measure with the gun amendment attached.

The amendment has D.C. voting-rights advocates in a bind. If the gun language remains, there’s concern the bill might be killed by liberal lawmakers who favor gun control. But taking out the amendment could erode support from gun-rights Democrats.

“Congress has largely regarded the bill as another piece of local legislation,” said Mrs. Norton, one of only a few lawmakers at the hearing. “However, federal police must operate largely under the District’s gun laws and have testified that these gun laws have been critical to homeland security.”

Assistant U.S. Capitol Police Chief Daniel Nichols told lawmakers Friday he could not comment specifically on pending legislation, but he said allowing residents to carry guns outside their homes would “complicate” law enforcement efforts.

As of now, police are trained to view anyone carrying a weapon as a threat, he said. Mr. Ensign’s amendment would allow residents to carry guns to and from a place of business.

Mr. Ensign’s office did not immediately return a request for comment. The amendment comes after the Supreme Court affirmed in June that the Second Amendment right to bear arms applies to private citizens and ruled that the District’s 32-year-old handgun ban was unconstitutional.

Since then, D.C. officials have rewritten their gun laws to comply with the ruling. But the National Rifle Association and lawmakers including Mr. Ensign say the city continues to violate the Constitution by imposing numerous restrictions on gun ownership.

But Mr. Nickles argued that the amendment would make Washington’s gun regulations among the most lax in the nation, making it much harder for law enforcement to protect dignitaries who frequently travel by motorcade through the city.

He also criticized a provision that would allow D.C. residents to buy handguns in Maryland and Virginia without going through a federally licensed dealer in the District - something that is not allowed anywhere else in the country.

Rep. Donna Edwards, Maryland Democrat, said the cost of extra background checks would place a “tremendous burden” on the state at a time when its budget is already strained.

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