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Re-arming DC: Senators want to pack heat in capital

Boston Phoenix | June 23, 2005
BY DAVID S. BERNSTEIN

As a US Senator from Texas, Kay Bailey Hutchison splits time between her home state, where she is allowed to own practically any weapon invented and can even carry a concealed handgun, and the District of Columbia, where she can’t even keep a .357 Magnum in her house. For 12 years she has managed to abide this without complaint, but apparently she’s had enough. In May, she filed a bill to overturn DC’s gun-control laws, and this week she indicated that she has more than 30 co-sponsors and intends to push it to the floor for a vote in the near future.

The bill would, in one swoop, negate all the gun laws the district has adopted over the past 30 years, including pre-purchase criminal-background checks and bans on semi-automatic weapons and cop-killer bullets. If it passes the Senate, it is expected to breeze through the House, which passed a similar bill last September.

In the press release announcing the bill, Hutchison is quoted saying, apparently without irony: "The rights guaranteed by the Constitution do not end at the borders of Washington, DC."

In fact, the bill is an example of the opposite: unlike everyone else in North America, DC residents can have their own local laws rewritten by a group — the US Congress — in which they cannot elect a voting member.

Hutchison’s statement refers, of course, to the Second Amendment, which makes the quote doubly ironic; the bill is relevant only because the constitutionality of DC’s gun laws has been upheld against challenges sponsored by the National Rifle Association and the Cato Institute.

The mayor, police commissioner, city-council chair, and virtually every other Washington politician have spoken out against the bill. Meanwhile, crime in DC is declining under the current laws. Homicides dropped 20 percent in Washington last year to a 20-year low, and are down another 17 percent so far this year.

"It would really be hard to find a more unified consensus behind any policy stronger than the one behind gun control" in the district, says Casey Anderson, spokesperson for the Washington-based Coalition To Stop Gun Violence — except, perhaps, for opposition to congressional meddling in DC home rule.

All of which has nothing to do with whether it becomes law. "This bill is primarily designed to allow Republican members of the House and Senate to pose as gun-rights fundamentalists for the benefit of their base," says Anderson.

"One would hope that the Congress would have better things to worry about than flooding the nation’s capital with guns," says Sean Tenner, chairman of DC for Democracy, which lobbies for DC-statehood rights. "But I’ve been wrong before."

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