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The 51st State and the 2nd Amendment

Souder's Shooters duke it out with Norton's Naysayers in the House over the D.C. gun ban--and win.

12:01 AM, Sep 30, 2004 • By KATHERINE MANGU-WARD
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YESTERDAY at 2:58 p.m. the House of Representatives passed the "District of Columbia Personal Protection Act." Floor debate was stunning, often managing to simultaneously defy the rules of logic and of constitutional law.

For the convenience of Daily Standard readers, appended below is a Cliff's Notes-style summary of what happened in and around the House side of the Capitol yesterday afternoon. We're not going to write your paper for you, so you'll have to draw your own conclusions, but here's the play-by-play.

The bill up for consideration was H.R. 3193, which mandates the repeal of D.C.'s ban on handguns and semiautomatic weapons, along with current gun registration requirements.

As debate began, D.C. shadow representative Eleanor Holmes Norton manned one corner of the ring, looking belligerent. She marshaled out a crack team of opponents to the bill who, together, crafted the following line of reasoning. (Things might get bumpy somewhere around Point 4, but stick with it):

(1) The Constitution guarantees representation for every citizen.

(2) D.C. should therefore have voting representation in Congress. The current situation is "unacceptable because it is unconstitutional."

(3) OK, we know the reason D.C. citizens don't have voting representation in Congress is because that's how it was set up in the Constitution. But that part of it is wrong--after all, the Constitution is a living document.

(4) What? H.R. 3193 is about the right to bear arms? Oh, well in that case, said the on-message Julia Carson of Indiana, "it is ironic that this bill proposes to implement constitutional rights to the District of Columbia" when D.C. "doesn't even have representation in this body."

(5) Also, this whole "Constitution" thing is a little suspect anyway. After all, one Illinois representative noted, "my ancestors were enslaved" when it was written.

(6) D.C. citizens shouldn't have legal guns not be able to exercise their constitutional right to bear arms because the D.C. city council says so.

(7) But D.C. residents should have the representation in Congress, because the Constitution says so.

District of Colombia shadow senator Paul Strauss later added that the debate over the legislation headed "a bill to restore second amendment rights to the District of Columbia" actually "had very little to do with gun policy." He was at least half right.

MATCHING THE NORTON NAYSAYERS blow for blow was the team assembled by the bill's sponsor, Indiana representative Mark Souder. This group drew from the bill's 299 cosponsors, 44 of whom were Democrats. Souder's Shooters argued that:

(1) The Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms, so D.C.ers should be able to bear arms.

(2) Also, a lot of law-abiding people would like to be able to scare off the numerous criminals swarming around D.C. streets with their own personal, legal handgun.

(3) D.C. has been the murder capital of the country 14 out of the last 15 years, and the homicide rate is 8 times greater than the national average.

(4) Sorry, what's that? D.C. statehood? Who came up with that hare-brained idea? We're not going to talk about that.

(5) In conclusion, all the bad guys have guns anyway, we might as well let the good guys have guns, too. Plus, the Constitution says so.

Meanwhile, the noon to 2:00 protest shift from DC Vote set up shop on Independence Ave. A chat with executive director Ilir Zherka yielded another perspective on the bill:

(1) D.C. should have voting representation.
(1a) By the way, we would like to distance ourselves from those "D.C. statehood" people, though it just so happens that we agree with them on this gun thing. And there is a Million Mom-mom over there. She agrees with us, too.

(2) However, we must insist that we get "VOTING RIGHTS, NOT GUN RIGHTS." Also, we would like passing motorists to "HONK FOR NO GUNS."

(3) We have powerful friends, including failed presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich, who "came out and gave us a hearty cheer," and Eleanor Holmes Norton, who can't actually vote in Congress. In addition, we have the backing of Rep. James Moran of Virginia, who earlier wondered aloud if Congress was "insane" and then missed his chance to speak on the floor when he came running into the chamber wheezing just as debate time expired.

(4) If the bill becomes law, Zherka concluded, we face a future in which "kids" and "the blind" will be able to "walk the streets with AK-47s" or "sit on the porch in Northeast and shoot a squirrel."

(5) None of those things would happen, you see, if D.C. had voting representation in Congress.