- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2017

After Republican members of Congress were targeted by a left-wing zealot in a shooting in the Washington suburbs last week, lawmakers said they felt like sitting ducks and demanded more freedom to defend themselves while in the nation’s capital.

The chief target is the city’s restrictive gun laws, including its tight controls on concealed-carry permits, which require someone to show “good reason to fear injury” or another “proper reason,” such as a job that requires carrying large amounts of cash or valuables, before they can receive a permit.

One plan that has emerged would let anyone who holds a permit back home carry a concealed weapon in the District of Columbia as well. Another proposal in the works would specifically let members of Congress carry firearms anywhere in the country.

The push is on after about two dozen members of Congress and staffers were caught in the open on a baseball field in Alexandria last week by a gunman armed with a rifle and a handgun. If it hadn’t been for three U.S. Capitol Police officers assigned to protect one of the senior members at the field, those who were there would have been massacred, they said.

“We were sitting ducks. We had nothing to fight back with but bats, if it came to that,” Rep. Roger Williams of Texas, whose staffer was wounded in the shooting, said in the hours after the attack.

The shooter, James Hodgkinson, reportedly had a list of Republican lawmakers’ names and had repeatedly ranted against Republicans on social media. He was killed in a shootout with police after he injured a handful of people.

Rep. Thomas A. Garrett Jr., a Virginia Republican who introduced legislation in March that would wipe out many of the city’s firearms restrictions, said that if members could obtain concealed carry permits in the District that would be honored in neighboring Virginia, it’s likely some of those on the baseball diamond when gunfire erupted Wednesday might have had their firearms nearby.

Virginia does have less-stringent laws and allows reciprocity to carry weapons for those who hold permits in their home states. But that doesn’t help when the lawmakers have to go to and from the Capitol and its D.C. environs.

“Multiple members present have permits in their home states,” said Mr. Garrett. “But since you can’t come from Washington with a gun, they couldn’t carry.”

Washington used to have a complete ban on carrying firearms in public, but it was struck down in 2014. The city later adopted the “good reason” regulations.

Since then, the Metropolitan Police Department reports it has received 313 applications from out-of-state residents seeking to carry concealed handguns in the District. Just 79 have been approved.

Two lawsuits challenging the city’s restrictive policy are pending.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit heard oral arguments in the two cases in September but has yet to issue a ruling. The three judges who heard the case, all Republican appointees, were skeptical of the city’s demand that owners must justify a need for self-defense.

Lawmakers are moving to take the matter into their hands.

Mr. Garrett’s legislation, which would also require that the city’s police department “shall issue” concealed carry permits to qualified adults who apply, picked up six of its seven co-sponsors since Wednesday’s shooting.

An aide for Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, one of the Republicans at the baseball practice, said he intends to introduce legislation that would specifically allow members of Congress to carry firearms anywhere in the country.

“Right now when we’re in Washington, D.C. — once we’re off the Capitol Hill complex we’re still congressmen and senators — we’re still high-profile targets, but we have absolutely no way to defend ourselves because of Washington, D.C.’s rather restrictive gun laws,” Mr. Brooks told Fox News. “I want congressmen to be treated as if they were law enforcement.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Thomas Massie, Kentucky Republican, introduced legislation last week that he said would allow anyone with a concealed carry permit in his home state to use the permit to carry in the District.

The proposal was co-sponsored by 21 lawmakers — including at least three who had been at the targeted baseball practice.

But where Republican lawmakers see an opportunity to strengthen Second Amendment protections, lawmakers from the District of Columbia see the latest assault on their local authority.

“All they can agree on is taking cheap shots at the District,” Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting member of Congress, said of the multiple proposals. “After last week’s shooting, Rep. Brooks called for sending a message of unity and bipartisanship to the American people. He is undermining that goal with his attack on D.C.’s local gun safety laws.”

Fending off such affronts to local law is nothing new for Ms. Norton: D.C. gun laws came under unsuccessful attack by members of Congress at least six times during the last session. She said the swell of momentum among Republicans to tear up and rewrite the city’s gun laws is concerning but not necessary.

“The fact is, most members of Congress are not recognized outside of their own districts,” the Democratic delegate said. “If Rep. Brooks were to go out on Pennsylvania Avenue today, nobody would know who he is. He is already in the best-protected place on the planet here in the Capitol.”

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who helped craft the city’s current concealed-carry laws, said the fervor among federal lawmakers was troubling.

“Somehow, both sides in the gun control debate see arguments in their favor from this tragic event. I hope, though, that some lawmakers don’t see this as an opportunity to jump on the District and possibly make things worse,” Mr. Mendelson said. “Our gun laws have been held constitutional by several courts, and we continue to refine them to ensure constitutionality.”

Noting the competing bills, Ms. Norton said she believes those who support the District’s ability to govern itself will be able to hold off any sweeping changes to city gun laws — from lawmakers anyhow.

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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