How the Gun Lobby Shot Down D.C.'s Congressional Vote The D.C. Voting Rights Act was a sure thing. Then the NRA stepped in.

Photograph by Darrow Montgomery

When Ilir Zherka took over as executive director of DC Vote in 2002, one of his friends jokingly told him, “Either you’re really smart because you have a job for life—you’re never going to accomplish this goal—or you’re really stupid because you think you can win.”

Perhaps both. But just this spring, he seemed close to proving his cynical compatriot wrong.

It was April 16, the anniversary of the 1862 day when Abraham Lincoln granted freedom to slaves in the District. And Zherka, a 44-year-old émigré from the former Yugoslavia, who equates the struggle for D.C. Congressional representation with the cause of Albanian freedom, was quick to draw a connection.

“We are not fully emancipated,” he announced to a group of 200-odd activists in the Capitol’s visitors’ center as they prepped for a flurry of last-minute lobbying. “We need to get the rights and privileges that all other Americans have.”

Demanding those rights and privileges has been rhetorical boilerplate for local pols going back decades. In the past few years, though, strategists like Zherka had quieted down about the city’s impossible dream—making itself a state, right alongside Alabama and Montana—and started pushing a humbler goal: winning D.C. a vote in the House of Representatives.

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Unlike previous proposals to fix the capital’s orphaned political status, this one required nothing more than passing a bill and getting the president to sign it. And just two days earlier, Congressional leaders had decided to do just that. They’d agreed to bring to the floor the long-dormant D.C. Voting Rights Act, a measure that would immediately invalidate the “Taxation Without Representation” slogan on D.C. license plates.

The catch? The bill would also disembowel the District’s gun laws.

For more than a year, nonvoting D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton had tried to delete the armament provisions. Congress’ pro-gun contingent, backed by the ever-influential National Rifle Association, was adamant about overturning the city’s gun restrictions as a condition of giving Washington a voting member of Congress.

The impending vote meant advocates were finally, publicly admitting that there was no way to separate the gun issue from the voting rights issue. Zherka and other supporters had made an unhappy peace with that reality —or so he thought.

The one factor that hadn’t been on their side was time. Democrats were poised to lose seats in the November elections. The delicate bipartisan compromise that would have given GOP-dominated Utah an extra seat to counterbalance heavily Democratic D.C.’s new vote was about to unwind: The 2010 census would likely give Utah another seat no matter what happened to D.C.

“I believed we could get our gun laws back, but we could never get Utah back,” says Norton. “It really was a now or never proposition.” The message she was getting from talking to the city government, to her constituents, and to the coalition of voting rights advocates, she says, was: “‘Don’t lose the only chance we have.’”

In January, Democratic leaders in Congress had publicly vowed not to go forward with the combined gun/voting rights bill without some form of consensus with Norton, the city government, and the advocacy groups fighting for D.C. voting rights. Now, with Norton on board, Zherka believed city leaders had also made their shaky peace with the compromise.

“We heard off and on for the past year from probably a majority of the council members that they were ready to move forward, [and] that it was really critical that the D.C. Voting Rights Act get passed.” says Zherka. The perception was “we could live to fight another day” on the gun issues, but the time for voting rights was running short.

By the time Zherka returned to his Dupont Circle offices on Emancipation Day, though, the fragile consensus was unwinding. The Washington Post was preparing an editorial that slammed the trade as an affront. Divisions emerged among the coalition of voting rights groups. Long-time DC Vote partners, including the League of Women Voters and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, broke ranks and came out against the bill.

Members of the D.C. Council suddenly got cold feet. Led by council chairman and mayoral candidate Vincent Gray, the entire body unanimously denounced the bargain—despite private indications that many were ready to move forward and compromise on the gun issues if it meant a Congressional vote for D.C. residents.

“We came back to the office,” says Zherka. “Some of our coalition partners were lining up against us, and so was Vincent Gray. At one point we were talking about our ‘opponents.’ I stopped and said, ‘Who are we talking about?’ Someone within our group was talking about our side. We all stopped and looked at each other and said,‘This is a problem.’ When people we’ve been fighting together with, on the same side, for years and years and years, we start to view as opponents—something is really amiss here.”

A few days later, when Congressional, leaders shelved the bill at the eleventh hour, it wasn’t disappointment or despair that washed over Zherka. It was a strange sense of relief.

Only 18 months earlier, the stars seemed perfectly aligned for D.C. representation on Capitol Hill. The Bush administration—no friend of D.C. voting rights—was gone. The new president, Barack Obama, had helped sponsor the D.C. voting-rights bill when he was a senator. Democrats had huge majorities in both the houses and unparalleled control of the political agenda.

“That was one of our busiest times at DC Vote,” says Zherka. “For the first time in our history, we were fully staffed. We had 10 people on staff. It was all hands on deck.”

The nonprofit had a budget of more than $1.4 million at the end of 2008, according to public tax records, including $500,000 in government grants, courtesy of the D.C. Council. Since 2006, District taxpayers have given the group $1.6 million, the lion’s share of city spending on home-rule issues. (Zherka’s salary is $140,000.)

Since it had already been considered and passed by the House in 2007, the D.C. Voting Rights Act didn’t have to go through the normal congressional hoopla of endless hearings and rounds of edits. It was essentially ready to go to the president’s desk. All that was needed was for both the House and the Senate to pass the bill.

“All the markups, all the hearings, the floor dates, the co-sponsorships—all of that stuff had already happened. We were teed up and ready to move,” says Zherka. “We sat around and thought, ‘We have a lot of work to do, but when it gets signed into law, that’s going to be a big moment for the city and we’re going to need to think about a big party.’” They weren’t exactly “measuring the drapes,” he says—but damn near close.

Less than two months after the new Congress convened, the Senate passed the bill, by 61 votes to 37. After the vote, a Roll Call reporter quoted an overjoyed Norton saying, “Can we scream now?”

The answer was yes—but not for the reasons Norton imagined.

Rather than tightly controlling the bill’s path through the Senate, Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid had allowed a last-minute gun amendment to be added by his Republican Nevada colleague John Ensign. The addition had broad support among Republicans, not to mention centrist Democrats who fear the gun lobby. Reid’s explicit support gave cover for other Democratic Senators to join him.

In theory, the House of Representatives should have been able to kill off the gun language. Norton had already shepherded the bill’s through that chamber in 2007 without any provisions that altered D.C.’s gun laws. With an even stronger Democratic majority and a supportive president, repassing the bill and then stripping out the gun language seemed like a very manageable task. But as a final House vote neared, the powerful, well-funded, and highly effective National Rifle Association set up a Mexican standoff that lasts to this day.

The NRA’s antagonism towards the District’s strict gun laws goes back decades. But tensions have spiked in recent years. In 2008, a landmark Supreme Court ruling declared D.C.’s ban on handgun possession unconstitutional. In response, the D.C. Council passed a series of counterordinances that continued to make legal firearms possession exceedingly difficult.

Ever since, pro-gun forces have been trying to use Congress’ unique oversight of the District to alter those laws—a situation unlikely to change even if the D.C. Voting Rights Act were enacted. “We don’t really care about the voting rights aspect,” says NRA spokesperson Alexa Fritts. “We’re committed to restoring those Second Amendment rights to law-abiding citizens in D.C. by whatever means necessary.”

On the D.C. government side, there’s a parallel hostility towards the NRA’s devil-may-care, democracy-be-damned stance. “The fact that an interest group can run roughshod over some members of Congress and basically impose their will on our jurisdiction is ridiculous,” says at-large D.C. Councilmember Michael A. Brown. “We’re not thumbing our noses at the Supreme Court. They’re doing a commercial for us on why we need to be a state.”

No kidding: Instead of letting the gun language quietly disappear in House-Senate negotiations, the NRA informed lawmakers that refusing to attach the gun amendment would negatively affect their “scores” on gun issues—even if their positions were based on the separate issue of voting rights. The gun lobby wouldn’t just be monitoring the final vote, either, but all the little procedural votes along the way.

The result was exactly what the NRA wanted: It had frightened enough moderate Democrats who’d otherwise be friendly to D.C. voting rights. Just like in the Senate, attitudes towards D.C.’s Congressional voting rights were now inseparable from its local gun laws. The House leadership couldn’t figure out a way to unlink the two. The city wasn’t ready to trade its gun laws even for the long-sought goal of a House vote. The bill was yanked in early 2009.

For the next year, the D.C. Voting Rights Act lived in Congressional limbo. The issue was hardly a priority for most members—who, after all, represent districts that include exactly zero D.C. residents. “Just from speaking to fellow staffers, most people (aside from the whole constitutionality thing) don’t care about D.C. getting the right to vote,” e-mails one GOP aide. “Republican leadership knows Eleanor Holmes Norton will never support the gun measures, especially when D.C. had the highest murder rate in the country ten years ago. Plus, they don’t want the far right base to think they’re letting the Democrats get any more bills passed.”

During this lull, Norton vowed to stand firm against the gun lobby—promising a “clean” bill where gun laws and D.C.’s voting status remained separate. “There were some people who said we should go forward without even trying,” she says. “There were a few, mostly pundits, here and there. Those people were actually for my moving forward without even trying to see if I could get a clean bill.”

Norton’s efforts almost worked. House leadership approved her scheme to attach the voting rights bill to the Department of Defense appropriations bill without any of the controversial gun amendments. Unlike many bills, the Defense appropriations bill contains money for the troops and must past through Congress.

The barons of the Senate, though, weren’t on board with this strategy. Democrat Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, the chair of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, declared that there was “no way” that he would let an important, must-pass military bill get bogged down in a fight over D.C.’s constitutional pecularities—never mind that such parliamentary maneuvers are in fact relatively common. (Democrats successfully attached hate crimes legislation to a different military spending bill in October.)

Eventually, Norton knuckled under. Aware of the political realities—the likely Democratic losses this fall, the loss of Utah’s support for the compromise because of the 2010 census, the power of the gun lobby—she prepared to discuss terms with the NRA.

Having decided to play footsie with the gun lobby, Norton didn’t just hoof it out to the NRA’s Virginia headquarters. Rather than engage face-to-face—“a very polarized negotiation,” she says—she used intermediaries in a game of shuttle diplomacy. “Some of them were my colleagues in the House and the Senate who indeed are for guns. Some were colleagues from outside [Congress] altogether that helped me,” she says. “It made a whole lot better sense—if you know anything about how this place operates—to deal through people they trust.”

Indirect talks carried on for about six months. At first, Norton and Democratic leaders wanted to know whether the NRA was simply acting at the behest of obstructionist conservatives who oppose a D.C. Congressional vote as a political matter. “We had to learn whether or not the NRA had some kind of understanding with Republicans to block the D.C. Voting Rights Act,” she says. She concluded that they didn’t. “Through our intermediaries, it became absolutely clear that the NRA regarded us as a pony to ride. The NRA is a very focused lobby. It was focused on what it wanted. What it wanted was to change D.C.’s gun laws.”

In response, Norton’s office did an exhaustive review of almost every other big-city gun law, writing up a compromise gun measure that she thought both the District government and the NRA could accept. Recognizing that D.C.’s gun restrictions were some of the nation’s toughest, the proposed changes would have brought the city in line with other large urban areas—which, of course, are rarely known for friendliness to the NRA. The proposal was rejected. The only provisions the lobby was willing to consider, Norton says, related to minors’ access to guns.

“When we got up the ladder, there were no more conversations,” says Norton with more than a hint of frustration. “Ultimately, when we put our compromises forward, the NRA rejected them. And they rejected them because they think they can get the whole thing anyway—without compromise.” The NRA knows that it has the votes for stripping D.C.’s gun laws, according to Norton.

And so, in December, the negotiations ceased.

With no give from the NRA, only two choices remained. The first: Abandon the voting rights bill and accept the 200-year old status quo of a disenfranchised capital city. The second: Accept the NRA’s gun language and abandon the more recent status quo of a city where people can’t buy up vast caches of weapons willy-nilly.

The gun lobby would soon make this choice easier. House Democrats, led by Mississippi freshman Rep. Travis Childers, introduced separate bills that would reshape the city’s gun laws—without doing a thing for representative democracy. A few weeks later, Sens. John McCain and John Tester would introduce similar legislation in the Senate. If any of those bills ever came to the floor, they would handily pass, potentially leaving the city with neither voting rights in Congress nor the gun protections its locally elected legislators have enacted. (President Obama could still veto the measures, of course).

Zherka recalls heated Sunday night strategy calls over what course to take: Grab the Congressional vote and treat the gun-law gutting as inevitable? Walk away from the whole stinking mess? Norton says that, after canvassing constituents, she decided to go ahead with the vote. In April, leadership aides say, Norton went to House Democratic honchos and acknowledged that she would accept the NRA’s gun language.

On April 14, the Democratic Majority leader announced that the bill was coming back for a vote the following week. Two days later, on Emancipation Day, Zherka and his crew were working the halls on behalf of the law.

Norton called it a “painful decision.” That’s putting it mildly. Beyond undoing the city’s gun laws, the bill she was backing represented a major blow against home rule for the District. Home rule, of course, is the larger issue that encompasses the struggle for a Congressional vote and an array of other issues. In addition to the one measly vote in the House, D.C.’s longtime civic cause has involved winning Washingtonians the same rights as other Americans when it comes to voting for senators, controlling their municipal budget, and passing local laws without having to beg for an OK from Uncle Sam. But under this law, the D.C. Council would no longer even be allowed to legislate on any gun-related matters.

If the path forward in Congress was now clear, there was suddenly trouble on the city side—where people wondered just how much they were willing to pay to change Norton’s title from delegate to representative. Mayor Adrian Fenty initially gave the deal his blessing. Gray fired away. “I honestly believe [people] will not respect me when they hear I traded their safety for a vote,” he said.

By the Tuesday of the vote, Norton was starting to waver, too. The previous Friday night, she saw a draft of the gun amendment that was to be inserted into the House bill. Like the stand-alone bills to change D.C.’s gun laws, it was introduced by Travis Childers—a vulnerable Democratic freshman from a very conservative Mississippi district—in tandem with now-disgraced Republican Rep. Mark Souder of Indiana.

“We thought that the Ensign amendment was as bad as you can get until we saw the new Childers language,” Norton says. “It was so incredible as to be unbelievable. Why would you say, in any big city, for example, that the city itself couldn’t keep guns out of city-owned and -controlled buildings? Perhaps the worst of the upping of the ante was that you could carry guns in the streets. The city must grant permits to carry guns in the streets of the District of Columbia—the nation’s capital where there are dozens of motorcades with high-level officials.”

It’s unclear if the differences between the Childers amendment and the Ensign amendment were what finally killed the bill. In a comparative analysis of both bills obtained by Washington City Paper, a research attorney with the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service wrote that there were only “nuanced” differences—a claim that a Childers spokesperson echoed.

But others were also beginning to pressure. That Sunday, the Washington Post delivered a scathing editorial. “Never in our wildest imagination could we have thought that we would oppose a vote to correct the historic injustice inflicted on the people of the District of Columbia. But sometimes compromise demands too high a price.”

By Tuesday, as Congressional leadership was talking up the bill, the D.C. Council was in a meeting set up to air its grievances. “Let’s say there was a court challenge and the voting rights issues were knocked down on constitutional issues,” says Michael Brown. “The gun part stays. Then you don’t even get anything.” Zherka’s initial nose count led him to think a majority still favored the compromise. Instead, with the vote looming, the council unanimously joined with Gray in a nonbinding vote to denounce the law.

Norton says she wasn’t surprised: “Their job is to defend the laws of the District that they themselves have written. I never expected the council to decide to give up its laws. You must understand, it was not just that it would take away their gun laws that they had just passed. The worst thing about this bill is that you couldn’t pass any more gun laws. At some point, somebody has to call the question.”

Some aides on the Hill believe the Childers changes ultimately provided a convenient excuse to escape the pressure. “She got some bad editorials,” an aide to the Democratic leadership says of Norton. “She was looking for an offramp and she found one.”

“The language on guns was still being finalized,” adds another aide. “In that final go-around, Delegate Norton made a determination that it was not something the District could accept. She indicated that to the majority leader and a decision was made to pull the bill.” As reporters gathered Tuesday morning for Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s weekly briefing, they were first told the vote was a go—and moments later they were told that it was being shelved. Again.

On the Hill, few people think that the bill will resurface. “At this point in time I do not see the ability to move it in this session of Congress,” Hoyer told the Washington Post.

And if it doesn’t pass before the end of 2010, the political math seriously changes. Utah will almost certainly be getting another congressional seat in the upcoming redistricting based on the 2010 census, taking away the bargaining chip that once attracted Republicans to the bill. Democrats will almost certainly have fewer seats in the next Congress. After November, presidential politicking starts in earnest—bringing with it a whole different set of political calculations.

Then there’s the creeping sense among critics that the voting rights movement has lost direction and energy. D.C. Council members have gone back to talking about statehood, despite the fact that few realistically believe that a statehood bill would have any more success than the very moderate compromise efforts that the city has lobbied for—at significant taxpayer expense—over the past seven years.

Zherka pronounces himself undaunted. “We’re going to increase the aggressiveness of our tactics over the next few months,” he says.

The city budget doesn’t exactly bear that out. Fenty’s initial proposal, made two weeks ago, contained no money for D.C. voting rights activities or outreach. In past years, DC Vote has received almost a quarter of its funding from this single line item in the District’s budget.

Brown, chair of the committee on statehood and self-determination, immediately vowed to restore the funding. In the final budget negotiations, the council included $250,000—about half of what was appropriated in 2006 and 2008.

Our Readers Say

Oh bullshit! The Dems killed the vote because they would have had to also overturn DC's illegal gun laws. The same laws that the SCOTUS said to stop. This is just Socialist noise trying to put the blame on anyone but their fearful leaders.
@SS > DittO!
i'm surprised this reporter didn't ask Ilir what his favorite color is - what a worthless fluff piece -
Makes for a very compelling story, almost like a Greek tragedy! We all know what the outcome will be. The NRA is like a democracy eating beast going forth about the land!
The extremely sad things are:

1) Our gun laws are indeed unconstitutional, and;
2) There are enormous numbers of guns in the city, since VA and MD are rather close and freely sell guns.

Thus, we literally traded something for nothing, a facade for the rich masters of the city to discuss as they sip cognac in law firms. Just sickening.
I don't see where the article gets the claim that it just take passing a law. The Constitution (that pesky little hinderance to doing whatever the politicians want) is very clear that only States get Representative. Art. I §2 says representatives are be chosen by "the People of the several States," and they must be, at time of election, be "a inhabitant of the State in which he shall be chosen."

If you argue that Congress can somehow turn what is not a State, into a State, by passing a bill, I somehow missed the Organizing Act, the Constitutional Convention, and the Act of Admission. And how could Congress make DC a State, yet refuse to allow it two Senators?

The whole thing was one of the more shocking displays of political cynicism I have seen to date, and I am no novice. Congress gives DC a House seat, then gives another seat (likewise unconstitutional) to Utah, in order to offset an unconstitutional Demo seat with an unconstitutional GOP on, as if the Constitution were just a playing ground or the subject of bargaining between the two major parties.
D Hardy, as far as I know they are two separate issues: getting a vote in the House does not require DC to be a state. And if we got a House vote, we wouldn't necessarily get a Senate vote, thus we are not applying for the full representation mentioned in the Constitution. To get Senators, we'd need to be a state, and go through the whole process. And don't even bring up retrocession to Maryland, which is what I prefer...

But regardless, those Constitutional law issues are really at the heart of the matter and debated by various legal minds on a regular basis. Surely you don't accept the converse, that the Constitution dictates that residents of a certain patch of territory in the US get no federal representation? My guess is it was never thought to be a potential problem as no one lived in DC other than white, empowered transients and their chattel (slaves). Then tens of thousands of freed slaves showed up, home rule was revoked to avoid rule-by-blacks, and the game was on...
What idiot wrote this article? He obviously lacks even an remote understanding of US Constitution.
Lets see in VA I can open carry my gun which I do. DC and MD have some of the most strict laws and a much higher crime rate then VA. Wonder why. Time for DC and the rest of the country to respect the 2 amendment. Face it DC you are not a state but are part of the USA.
Shouldn't this have been titled, "How the Anti-Gun Lobby Shot Down D.C.'s Congressional Vote; The D.C. Voting Rights Act was a sure thing. Then the League of Women Voters and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence stepped in."
To the NRA tools: how about you go F yourselves and leave your pet issue out of our struggle? You want to loosen gun restrictions? Fine, that's your right. Take it up with the locals: the City Council, the Mayor, the people of D.C.
Oh wait, the people don't want it? So you're going through 435 out-of-towners who routinely disparage our home because it looks good for their locals? Well, try go drowning in a river. We live here, you don't, and we are entitled to representation for the taxes we pay.
Back the F off.
The bill (at least the provisions addressing voting in DC) was unconstitutional on it's face: The Constitution specifies that 'STATES' have senators, congresspeople, and can elect members to the Electoral College. If DC wants to vote that badly, then submit an amendment to the US Constitution (the instructions are IN the Constitution, clearly Norton has never read that document) and when it is ratified then the permanent residents of DC can vote.

That would mean that DC would actually have to produce, instead of being a giant sinkhole for the US taxpayer. Pay their own way, and everything, follow the same laws as the rest of the country.

Or, the votes of the people of DC can be allocated (for voting) to the surrounding States... Also with a Constitutional amendment. That would actually be a better solution since it would mean that Norton would have zero chance of being elected...a net improvement to the US House of Representatives.
HA HA HA HA HA DC got nothing for nothing. And your unconstitutional gun laws will keep coming down.. Why won't you PAY UP? The regime running the city owes the lawyer that WON the Supreme Court case $3.5 million. And 7% interest for every day you don't pay up. I hope he sues and confiscates all the cop cars and auctions them off to get his rightful money.
What this means is that the 'taxation without representation' unconstitutionality is overridden by the gun ban unconstitutionality.

As long as moneyed lobbies can affect the democratic process, true democracy for DC is held for ransom.
I read the article and the comments. It truly is amazing that the anti-gun folks attack the NRA and those who support it on a very personal level, but the pro-gun rights folks stick to the LAW and the facts.

Gun laws are people control laws. The DC government does not trust the PEOPLE to act responsibly. How far would or will they take this? FREEDOM has responsibility. I want the freedom to be an equal citizen which means that all of the rights of the bill of rights are mine. If a government restricts those rights an I a free citizen?

Yes, I live in Virgina and I am a responsible gun owner.

Can we just flip the script on this? I don't need a single Rep in the House; don't actually believe it will make any difference to political life in DC. So let's just get rid of the Fed tax, and turn "no taxation without representation" into a fact, rather than a complaint?
Here's the thing with this. The fact that people say the gun laws are unconstitutional (which I don't think they are) is completely irrelevant. DC should either get a vote in Congress or its residents should be completely exempt from all federal taxes. Having passed 7th grade social studies, I know that we revolted from England in large part because of taxation without representation. What's fair is fair, and attaching anything to a bill that addresses this problem, be it another representative in Utah or draconian pro-gun laws that completely imposes the "Big Government" on DC that conservatives claim to so despise, is anathema to what this country was supposed to be founded on.
You pro gun control folks are racist tools.
As a 69 year old native Washingtonian, I fought for Home Rule and was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention for the State of New Columbia. I am a life member of the NRA and a certified instructor in most disciplines with the NRA.

In the article Councilmember Michael Brown , an attorney, is quoted as saying "Let's say there was a court challenge and the voting rights issues were knocked down on Constitutional issues." This point is most important because it is clear that attempting to achieve a vote in the House of Representatives through means other than being a state is unconstitutional. But no matter. The policitians in this City have never had a problem with violating Constitutional Rights, and gun control is a perfect example of this fact.

The law that was struck down by the Supreme Court was composed in the legal offices of the Metropolitan Police Department by lead attorney Vernon Gill and Godfrey Alprin, his subordinate. The law was written by police for the benefit and protection of police. The irony is that a District of Columbia Court of Appeals decision in the Carolyn v. Warren case held that the "... police are" der no duty to provide protection to individual citizens." This case is the most guarded secret om town. You never see it quoted in the Post or discussed by Kojo on his radio show.

So if the police don't have to protect you then who does? And should you be limnited in the means of protection? Shouldn't you have the same weapons available to citizens in other jurisdictions and the Metropolitan Police Department since you face dangers at least equal to those they face? With reqpest to the right to carry 40 of the 50 states permit citizens to carry concealed weapons when licensed. So why are we out of step with 80% of the nation? Finally, crime had gone down in the City since the Supreme Court's decision in the Heller case not up. Murders are down, not up since the Court'
s decision.

Please excuse the errors in my comments. I hope that you will not cite them as a basis for dismissing the comment. The quote for the Warren case should read :...are under no duty..." and the second correction should be to the 3rd paragraph 6th sentence which should read " This case is the most guarded secred in town." In the first sentence of the 4th paragraph after And should you be limited as opposed to "limnited." In the 4th sentence of the 4th paragraph after With it should read respect versus "reqpest."

Iwill do a more thorough check the next time. Promise!

What blows my mind is that anyone seriously believes DC will see an increase in violence as a result of changing their gun laws. Being right across the river from Virginia ensures easy access to illegal firearms for anyone who wants them; having a few more legal guns in the mix seems incredibly unlikely to change things one way or the other. It's an ideological argument. Guns are more dangerous (to bystanders, anyway) than knives, but neither is a cause of violence any more than a hammer is the cause of a house being built.

The NRA does not look at this issue logically, but neither does the Brady campaign. As long as everyone is distorting their own interpretation of reality to the exclusion of all others, we will never have any consensus at all on this issue. American gun culture is complex, deeply entrenched and ingrained in our national identity, and cannot rightly be distilled to either a "guns are good" or "guns are bad" argument. The fact that this dialog is endless and without compromise and yet continues to essentially be the third rail of American politics, implies to me that everyone involved is more interested in pushing their own agendas then in identifying real problems and finding real solutions.
Quote from Dave "To the NRA tools: how about you go F yourselves and leave your pet issue out of our struggle? You want to loosen gun restrictions? Fine, that's your right. Take it up with the locals: the City Council, the Mayor, the people of D.C."

Its funny how you call the NRA people tools yet admit it admit its their right. That's the point. It is a right that the local govt. has been stepping on for too long. Lets just take DC and all residents can become either part of Maryland or Virginia. DC should only be the federal property there. Then all the citizens would be represented like they want. DC is a city. Imagine if New York, LA, Chicago said they wanted their own special seat. The Heller decision told the city they were wrong so they changed the rules and another lawsuit ensued. The 2a right shall not be infringed except by due process. This is designed to allow everyone the same rights unless they are abused such as committing a crime with a firearm. Until then it is a right.
Great article on an important issue -- the City Paper needs to publish more feature stories like this.

I think this is a very thoughtful article. Thanks. I have been a resident and a DC Vote member for many years and follow the news thoroughly. The democracy in our country is represented best by the notion of 'one person, one vote'.....except in Washington, DC. It has been probably the most hurtful baggage of all for me that I live in the US, yet have been one of 600,000 disenfranchised Americans, living in DC, with no representation in Congress. This was never meant to be, yet has not been remedied in 200 years. Washington is not just the seat of US government, but a thriving metropolis, with a population equivalent to the state of Wyoming. What makes a place a state??

What is most disturbing about reader comments is that many of them are written by people (above) that clearly have no knowledge of the (subject) history and struggle for legislative representation in the District (a right that they probably take for granted in their own home place). And then there are always the gun zealots, who seem almost rabid in their extreme positions. It's true that one can understand reasonable and responsible gun use, but also acknowledge that certain gun control laws make eminent sense, given accidents and the lethal nature of these weapons. It seems a complete lack of imagination that one feels an instrument of lethal force is required to defend oneself from harm.
Well, I live in the District, on North Capitol, NW to be accurate. My house was ransacked by police and I was charged with Unregistered Firearms and Unregistered Ammunition. I spent 21 days in DC Jail.
To Hell with DC being a State. I want my Gun RIGHTS back (and my guns too!)!
@ Jeff - you're right, DC is a city - but unlike NY, LA & Chicago, we are NOT a city IN a state. If you live in Brooklyn, you have a congressional vote. If you live in Hollywood, you have a congressional vote. If you live in Washington, you get nothing.

I went to college in DC, I earned my masters degree in DC, I work in DC, I live in DC and pay taxes in DC... I am also a lifetime member of the NRA and supporter of the 2nd amendment. In a perfect America, we would have the right to bear arms in the District, but unfortunately we are not in a position to get that thru yet.

Given the choice: I would choose a congressional vote over the right to bear arms. It's simply unfair that I am a law abiding, tax paying, hard working citizen of the United States of America that is DISENFRANCHISED.
A good article by Byron Tau. A few clarifications:

1) Tau fails to note that DC Vote was in on the decision with Del. Norton to move forward with the bill with the gun amendment attached. DC Vote also failed to notify its coalition partners about this decision, which was made in behind-doors negotiations. Its partners only found out about the decision through Hoyer's public announcement on April 14. That caused as much outrage as the decision itself.

2) Del. Norton has never produced any evidence that the final House amendment would have allowed the carrying of guns in public in the District of Columbia. Language allowing guns in government buildings that have private business leasing was included in the "Second Amendment Enforcement Act," but was it included in the House amendment as well?

3) Del. Norton's claim that the majority of D.C. residents wanted her to move forward with the voting rights bill with the gun amendment attached is nonsense. Her phone was ringing off the hook with residents who were outraged about this decision. The article misses that entirely.

4) Tau curiously fails to mention a U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia decision on March 26 that declared D.C.'s new gun laws fully constitutional. Specifically, Judge Ricardo Urbina found that “public safety is a quintessential matter of public regulation” and the District's new gun laws “permissibly regulate the exercise of the core Second Amendment right to use arms for the purpose of self-defense in the home.”

And finally, isn't it wonderful to hear a lobby group like the NRA, which lectures to us constantly about "freedom" and "democracy," admit openly that it could not care less about voting rights? That really says it all.
BTW, I love the argument gun nuts on here are making to the effect of:

"Let's go ahead repeal all D.C.'s gun laws, because criminals and traffickers can purchase them easily in Virginia and Maryland anyway and bring them into D.C."

Yeah, let's find the strongest link in the chain and make it as weak as the weakest! That won't increase violence at all, right?

Hope no young folks reading this try similar arguments on their debate teams...
The failure wasn't the fault of the gun lobby. It was the fault of the anti-gun lobby.
I don't know this article's writer, but he certainly must have failed his rhetoric course. The so-called "gun lobby" did not cause Washington DC to reject it's citizens' right to "statehood"; that was accomplished entirely by that city's own government. This is a classic "cut off your own nose to spite your face" scenario. DC's city council threw a predictable fit when they couldn't get the legislation enacted their way. Why is it that the very people that we entrust to protect our civil rights (and the gun "issue" is every bit as much a matter of civil right as is suffrage) insist that we can only be "safe" if we surrender any and all methods we, the people, have of defending ourselves against our enemies, foreign AND (especially) domestic.
DC's voteing issue has nothing to do with the second amendment. America has a package its citizens are blessed with. Part of that is the right to keep & bear arms. Its no less a right then free speech or religion. Actually its a much more important right, its the right that gained us our freedom.
In this instance the NRA was working as hard or harder than congress to ensure DC recieved all the rights the rest of us have.

Those of you who live there & like the gun laws should be ashamed because it is YOU who keep DC outside of the box. My rights do not cease to exist when I cross an imaginary line into the capitol, you have no right to subjugate your citizenry. You worry about a vote while exhibiting irrational behavior & a total lack of comprehension of the importance of basic civil rights. Dont know why anybody would want to live there anyway.
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