Second Amendment Victory In Washington, D.C.!

Posted on February 27, 2009

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Yesterday, the United States Senate voted, with overwhelming bipartisan support, to adopt an amendment offered by Nevada Senator John Ensign (R), that seeks to protect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens in the District of Columbia. The amendment, attached to S.160, the "D.C. Voting Rights Act", will repeal restrictive gun control laws passed by the District of Columbia's (D.C.) city council in defiance of the landmark D.C. v. Heller Supreme Court decision. The vote margin was 62-36

"Today's vote brings us one step closer to restoring the gun rights of law-abiding D.C. residents," said NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris W. Cox.  "It's ludicrous that good people in our nation's capital continue to be harassed as they try to defend themselves and their loved ones in their own homes.  This vote reinforces the historic Heller ruling." 

Since the Supreme Court struck down D.C.'s ban on handguns and on having guns in operable condition within the home in last year's Heller decision, the District passed a series of temporary "emergency" bills that failed to comply with the Court's ruling, followed by a permanent law (which will take effect in April unless blocked) that imposes even more restrictions on D.C. gun owners.  (A temporary "emergency" law that mirrors the restrictive permanent law is currently in effect.)  In particular:

  • The new law enacts sweeping bans, borrowed wholesale from California, on hundreds of models of semi-automatic firearms, and on standard-capacity magazines widely owned for lawful self-defense purposes.
  • The new law also bans the sale of handguns deemed "unsafe" by California, based on California's legal standards.  Individuals would only be able to acquire handguns that are on the "California Roster of Handguns Certified for Sale."  This provision includes a "microstamping" mandate that would require use of unproven technology and would likely prevent sale of most new models of handguns in D.C. after January 1, 2011.
  • Though D.C. has always argued for its own sovereignty, these provisions give the legislature of California and the officials of the California Department of Justice all control over which handguns may be sold in the District.  D.C. gun owners would be at the whim of bureaucrats in Sacramento, who regularly change these rules to prohibit sales of more models of firearms.
  • Many of the guns that are prohibited under D.C.'s new law are both "in common use" throughout the United States and "typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes," which the Supreme Court in Heller suggested was the standard for constitutional protection.
  • The new law makes D.C.'s complicated, intrusive and expensive registration procedure even more complicated, to discourage people from attempting to register a handgun.  Among other provisions, it requires gun owners to report annually to the Metropolitan Police that they still own their guns.
  • The new limits include a limit of one handgun registration per 30 days; a provision that rations constitutional rights and that has failed to reduce crime in the few states that have enacted similar laws.

The Ensign Amendment is narrowly drawn to enforce the Supreme Court's Heller decision and prevent the District government from further burdening the Second Amendment rights of its residents. 

The Ensign Amendment will:   

  • Conform D.C. gun laws to the requirements set out by the Supreme Court.  The D.C. Council had the opportunity to conform its laws to the ruling, but its new laws add major burdens on residents' Second Amendment rights.
  • Reform the District's firearm registration regime, which the District's new law makes even more complicated and intrusive.  Firearm registration also has no crime-prevention benefit, as demonstrated by the fact that all, or nearly all, firearms used in violent crimes in D.C. are not registered.

The underlying question of whether Congress can grant representation to D.C. will ultimately be resolved in the courts. As a single-issue organization, NRA takes no position on voting rights for D.C., but we are obviously concerned about ensuring the Second Amendment Right to Keep and Bear Arms is functionally returned D.C. residents. Thus, we were supportive of Sen. Ensign's efforts, and pleased the amendment was adopted.  Fortunately, the Ensign amendment contains a severability clause, so it would remain standing even if the courts reject Congress's attempt to give congressional representation to D.C. residents. 

"NRA would like to thank the lead sponsor, Senator John Ensign for his efforts to reform D.C.'s gun laws and enable folks to protect their property and their loved ones," concluded Cox.  "It's time for leaders in Washington to wake up to the fact that the Supreme Court decision is now the law of the land." 

Please contact your Senators and thank them if they voted in favor of the Ensign Amendment.  If your Senators voted against this critical measure, please remind them you will remember this vote on Election Day.  You can reach your Senators at (202) 224-3121.  For more contact information for your U.S. Senators, please click here. 

To see how your Senator voted, please click here.

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