A Gun Bill that Makes Sense

Thursday, September 30, 2004

From the Washington Post:

The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill yesterday repealing most of the District's gun laws, in a vote that handed an election-season victory to gun rights groups and was denounced by the city's leaders as a historic violation of home rule.

By a vote of 250 to 171, the House passed the D.C. Personal Protection Act, which would end the District's 1976 ban on handguns and semiautomatic weapons, roll back registration requirements for ammunition and decriminalize possession of unregistered weapons and possession of guns in homes or workplaces.

The bill also would prohibit the mayor and D.C. Council from enacting gun limits that exceed federal law or "discourage . . . the private ownership or use of firearms."
Unfortunately, with only about a week to go before Congress recesses for the fall campaign, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has indicated only major legislation and uncontroversial measures are likely to reach the floor. How the D.C. Personal Protection Act is neither controversial nor major is beyond me.
Rep. Mark Edward Souder (R-Ind.), the bill's sponsor, called the vote a bipartisan victory for District residents' constitutional right to bear arms. During an hour-long debate, Souder and his allies referred to Washington as the "nation's murder capital" more than a dozen of times, arguing that the city's homicide rate shows that its restrictions on guns are ineffective.

Bill supporters note that the D.C. homicide rate was 72 percent higher in 2001 than it was in 1976, while the national rate had dropped by 36 percent. Opponents say that the D.C. rate is at a 20-year low and has fallen 55 percent since 1994.
Opponents have forgotten to say that Washington D.C.'s residential population has 35,000 people less than it did in 1990 and has decreased by 1.5% since 2000. Plus, D.C. has fewer citizens than every state in the Union except for Wyoming. There's nothing optimistic about the current trends for the "nation's murder capital."
"The D.C. handgun ban . . . has failed miserably. This bill is demanded by the people of the United States," Souder said. "Only the District of Columbia prohibits a person from having a firearm assembled and loaded at home for the purpose of self-defense."

Voting for the bill were 198 Republicans and 52 Democrats. Opposed were 148 Democrats, 22 Republicans and one independent.

In a sign of how the politics of gun control have changed in Congress, the vote was almost the opposite of a 1999 House attempt to repeal the District's gun laws, which failed 250 to 175. Thirty-four House members -- 24 Republicans and 10 Democrats -- who voted five years ago to preserve the city laws switched sides and co-sponsored Souder's bill.
Anything at this point is worth a try.