Sen. Marco Rubio, a likely Republican presidential contender in 2016, introduced legislation Thursday to roll back restrictive gun laws in the District of Columbia, arguing that congressional intervention is needed to “correct” laws that violate the Second Amendment.
Courting the guns right lobby, Mr. Rubio attacked the city’s long history of upholding prohibitions that have prevented law-abiding citizens from owning and carrying firearms.
“For years, the District of Columbia has infringed on its residents’ Second Amendment rights and rendered them vulnerable to criminals who could care less what the gun laws are,” the Florida Republican said in a statement. “This legislation will finally allow D.C.’s law-abiding residents and visitors access to firearms for sporting or lawful defense of themselves and their homes, businesses and families.”
Mr. Rubio’s “Second Amendment Enforcement Act of 2015” would make it easier for D.C. residents to purchase firearms and carry them in public by gutting the city’s gun laws and blocking the D.C. Council from enacting gun control measures. Among its changes, it would eliminate D.C. gun registration requirements, overturn the city’s ban on semi-automatic firearms and create a “shall issue” permitting system for concealed carry licenses.
Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, introduced similar legislation in the House on Thursday.
D.C. officials generally criticized the legislation as a dangerous attack on public safety laws.
“This proposal is reckless and disregards our country’s national security,” said D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, a Democrat. “All that would remain to protect the public leaders and citizens from gun violence is federal law, and federal law has proven to be inadequate.”
Gun rights activists welcomed the proposals.
“It can’t hurt to introduce a bill like this because it will at least open up a debate about how restrictive the nation’s capital can be,” said Dave Workman, an editor at a magazine run by the gun rights group the Second Amendment Foundation.
The gun rights proposal marks the second time in a week that D.C. laws have come under attack by a congressman with presidential aspirations. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican who announced his White House bid Monday, introduced a measure last week that would overturn two recently approved anti-discrimination laws that he said would undermine religious freedom in the nation’s capital.
Though both Republican-controlled houses of Congress could pass the gun rights legislation, it would provoke a confrontation with the White House, where President Obama has sought to impose stricter gun control legislation nationwide and has voiced support for D.C. autonomy.
‘Right to keep and bear arms’
The District had a near total ban on gun ownership up until its laws were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2008. Since then, the city continued to uphold restrictive gun laws that allowed residents to possess firearms only in their homes.
The city’s gun laws took another hit when a federal judge ruled that the District’s ban on the concealed carry of firearms is also unconstitutional. D.C. lawmakers passed legislation to comply with the federal ruling last year that allows gun owners to get concealed carry permits only if they demonstrate a “good reason” to carry a concealed weapon in public.
Lawsuits from gun owners who deem the restrictions unconstitutional are pending in court.
The proposed legislation cites the District as “one of the most dangerous large cities in the United States,” despite a homicide count that has dropped from more than 400 killings in 1994 to 105 in 2014. Mr. Rubio said the legislation was needed to give D.C. residents a way to protect themselves.
“Federal courts have repeatedly found provisions of the gun control laws of the District of Columbia to be unconstitutional,” the proposed legislation states. “Despite these reproofs, District officials have repeatedly and publicly asserted their determination to continue passing laws aimed at curbing the exercise of the right to keep and bear arms by law-abiding residents and visitors.”
The proposal rankled D.C. representatives, who accused Mr. Rubio of political grandstanding.
“It should shock no one that Sen. Rubio, who is widely expected to soon announce a run for president, would try to raise his national profile and conservative bona fides, but they should be shocked to hear that he would try to use our local jurisdiction and laws to violate his own support for the principle of local control,” said Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the District’s nonvoting representative in Congress.
Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat who has made efforts to meet with federal lawmakers on D.C. issues in the past, will continue to reach out to committees with oversight of city affairs to make her opposition to the legislation known, said spokesman Mike Czin.
“We just ask folks to respect the democratic legislative process that we have in the District,” Mr. Czin said. “This is really just about presidential politics. It feels more like they are paying attention to us like we are Iowa and New Hampshire.”
Despite the sudden interest in local laws from contenders as they gear up for presidential bids, officials from D.C. Vote, a group that lobbies for D.C. voting rights, say the attacks are nothing new.
“It’s been just as vicious as past years,” said D.C. Vote Executive Director Kimberly Perry. “It’s difficult to imagine anything more frightening for any local jurisdictions than to be governed by Congress.”
Still, gun rights activists say the move by federal lawmakers could be the only option outside of the courts to force D.C. legislators to loosen gun laws.
Based in Bellevue, Washington, the Second Amendment Foundation was involved in the successful challenge of the city’s ban of concealed carry.
“The District government has had to be dragged kicking and screaming to even this point, and they’ve made the requirements as prohibitive as possible,” said Mr. Workman of the Second Amendment Foundation. “I think what they’re saying with the legislation is telling the city to knock it off.”