Republicans in Congress introduced a bill this month to weaken gun control laws in Washington, D.C., sparking criticism from District officials concerned with federal meddling in local policies.
Freshman Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va.) introduced legislation on the floor of the House of Representatives to weaken D.C.’s gun regulations March 15. Currently, the District prohibits assault weapons and high-capacity magazine clips.
The bill, titled the Second Amendment Enforcement Act of 2017, would do away with this ban, as well as make it easier to obtain a concealed carry permit. Additionally, the legislation would prohibit the District from passing any future local gun laws.
Garrett’s legislation is the House counterpart to legislation introduced in the Senate by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in January of this year.
In Virginia, Garrett’s home state, open carry is allowed for anyone over the age of 18, and concealed carry is allowed for those with permits. Neither high-capacity magazines nor assault weapons are prohibited.
In an email to The Hoya, Garrett’s Communications Director Andrew Griffin explained that the legislation was inspired by FBI data showing a higher rate of violent crime and murders in the District compared to Virginia, even though D.C. has stricter gun regulations and fewer gun owners.
Griffin also wrote that several constituents in Virginia with legally owned firearms and concealed carry permits complain about feeling unsafe and unable to defend themselves when visiting D.C. According to The Washington Post, there were 105 fatal shootings in the District compared to 26 in northern Virginia last year.
D.C. is classified as a federal district by law, allowing Congress to constitutionally void District laws and manage the use of local tax dollars.
Various D.C. leaders voiced their concern over the legislation, including Councilmember Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) in an interview with The Hoya.
“Congressman Garrett is pretty wrong in thinking that putting semi-automatic weapons and large magazine clips and conceal carry weapons would somehow make D.C. safe. It will do the exact opposite,” Allen said. “But more importantly, I’m pretty sure that the voters of Virginia did not send him to Congress to be working on local issues in Washington, D.C., but to be working on the issues for Virginia.”
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who represents D.C. as a nonvoting delegate in Congress, criticized Garrett for his proposal the day after it was introduced.
“Wherever his constituents stand on guns, it is hard to believe that they would prefer their representative, who has only introduced three prior bills, devote time to interfering with another Member’s district, rather than focus on their needs,” Norton wrote in a March 16 press release.
When asked about tensions between congressional members and District leaders, Allen recalled the recent increase in proposed legislation pertaining to D.C., health care and homeland security.
In February, the House’s Oversight and Government Reform Committee issued a formal markup of disapproval of D.C.’s Death With Dignity Act, the fourth time Congress has voted down a D.C. law since the passing of the Home Rule Act of 1973. Despite this, the bill became law because neither a full House nor Senate voted down the act within the allotted 30-day review period.
In response, Allen launched the Hands Off D.C. initiative, which organizes District residents and leaders to resist federal intervention in District policies.
“Our message to him is the same as it is to any member of Congress wanting to try to write our local laws, and that is they should keep their hands off D.C. and focus on their own districts,” Allen said.
Allen added that a possible solution would be to grant the District statehood. Holmes Norton introduced legislation in the House on March 1 to make D.C. the 51st state.
“It can be resolved,” Allen said. “The most straightforward way would be for the District to become a state. If we had statehood, then we would have representation in Congress, and members of Congress from whether it’s Virginia, Utah, Florida or wherever wouldn’t be trying to interfere with local legislation and local budgets.”
According to Allen, hundreds of D.C. citizens plan on marching to the Capitol this Friday in a demonstration to send a message to members of Congress to not get involved in local legislation.