Did the Gun Lobby Abort D.C.'s Congressional Vote?

That's the premise of the Washington City Paper's cover story this week. The the drama centers around a fragile D.C. voting-rights compromise forged and then unraveled this April:

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. [D.C. Vote Executive Director Ilir] 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.'"

But then the Washington Post editorialized against the deal, and the whole thing came unglued:

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.

So yes, the NRA's intervention contributed directly to the bill's demise. But it's also worth pointing out a few truthinessisms:

* The Democratic Party had a supermajority in Washington for Barack Obama's first year in office, a super-duper majority in D.C., and still enjoys big enough pull on Capitol Hill to do stuff like ram through an unpopular health care deal. If there had been a will, there would have been a way, regardless of what the gun freakers wanted.

* Speaking of which, gun restrictions in the nation's capital have and continue to be among the most extreme in the country. Having a single-issue gun lobby use any of its means necessary to go after D.C. gun laws makes equal sense as, say, having single-issue anti-stop-and-friskers go after Michael Bloomberg's New York, or single-issue anti-anti-smoking lobbyists target Belmont, California. (Though D.C.'s bastard legal status always makes it easier for meddlers to do their thing.) It is always instinctively repellant to see a piece of legislation–particularly one having to do with basic enfranchisement–get saddled and ultimately sunk with a completely unrelated provision, but that's how political minorities, particularly in non-parliamentary countries such as the U.S., try to prevent the majority from running roughshod. And the flip side–attaching unrelated goodies to a super-popular bill, such as The Ongoing Emergency To Fund All Our Brave Troops Forever–is a hardy perennial used for such non-emergencies as hate crimes legislation.

* If it's true that the NRA let its zeal for gun rights kill the D.C. voting bill, the flip side is also true–District politicians' zeal for gun restrictions played a key role, too.

* As a D.C. taxpayer, here is one paragraph I did not enjoy:

The nonprofit [D.C. Vote] 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.)

Talk about taxation without representation!

Bill Flanigen wrote about this issue for Reason back in June 2009. And Reason Senior Editor Brian Doherty wrote the book on District of Columbia v. Heller.

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  • ||

    * If it's true that the NRA let its zeal for gun rights kill the D.C. voting bill, the flip side is also true–District politicians' zeal for gun restrictions played a key role, too.

    The NRA doesn't, and shouldn't, give a crap about DC voting rights.

    However, what this shows is that given a choice, Our Masters regard stripping you of your right to keep and bear arms as more important than letting you vote.

    They had the final decision, not the NRA.

  • ||

    "The NRA doesn't, and shouldn't, give a crap about DC voting rights."

    But it does care about gun rights. And I see nothing wrong with it trading support for something it doesn't care about, DC Voting rights, to advance a cause that it does, gun rights. That is just good politics.

    The Democrats had a chance to give DC the vote. But ultimately, the liberals are too racist and terrified of giving black people the right to bear arms to do so.

  • Eleanor Holmes Norton ||

    John, I'm black; therefore, I cannot be racist. I'm a Maternalist; how could I trust my own people to make their own decisions. Haven't you seen me on To the Contrary? I tried, John. I tried. Bonnie Erbe has already tried to skewer me over this issue.

  • ||

    "I'm black; therefore, I cannot be racist."

    You know you honestly believe that, and that is why it is both funny and sad. Of course it also explains why you lost in this case, ie false world view.

  • DRM||

    The biggest problem is that the automobile and government growth have allowed the federal government and its attendant hangers-on to escape the confinement of a single ten-by-ten mile area. So denying just a portion of the area the vote does not actually leave without representation the leeches who live on taxation.

    Unfortunately, there's no practical way to pass an amendment that would expand DC to include the neighboring counties and repeal the 23rd Amendment.

  • Jess Beano||

    I'd do her TWICE on Tuesday! LOL

    Lou
    www.Anonymous-VPN.de.tc

  • ||

    Um, that's a dude.

    NTTAWWT

  • Scarcity||

    Whoa, pretty messed up when you think about it.

  • ||

    But ultimately, the liberals are too racist and terrified of giving black people the right to bear arms to do so.

    FTFY. And racism might be a motive, but that's unprovable and therefore a distraction.

    And it's quite possible that the NRA does care very much about DC voting rights since a jurisdiction which consistently elects gun-grabbers to local office is likely elect gun-grabbers to national office given the chance.

  • Eleanor Holmes Norton ||

    See my response to John, Tonio.

  • ||

    Hey babe, Lou says he will do you twice on Tuesday! LOL.

  • ||

    Good one.

  • ||

    @2:14 was meant for "Eleanor" not fish.

  • ||

    A practical way would be to disenfranchise anyone who is salaried by the Federal Government or any of its many agencies. I still wouldn't give DC the vote. Why would any libertarian want a city full of leftist socialists to have voting rights on the rest of us?

  • ||

    I would support that. But I would exempt any soldier in a combat zone. They deserve the right to vote. But everyone else, fuck them. And I would prevent state and local employees from voting in state and local elections as well.

  • CaptainSmartass||

    Why are soldiers in combat zones special? Since when does a private, seaman, or airman get to voice his (or her) opinion on the war in which they're fighting?

    Anyone who can, as an individual or a bloc, vote themselves a pay raise should not have any influence over how the public purse is pilfered. It's irrelevant to that interest in what way they're pilfering the purse, only that they are.

  • ||

    If you are willing to pay the ultimate price to defend your country and are in fact in danger of doing so, you deserve a voice in how it is run. End of story.

  • adam||

    Ok, then you should also disenfranchise anyone who has gotten a social security check, medicare, medicaid, welfare, a federal student loan, an agricultural subsidy, an unemployment check, or claimed a tax deduction/credit for mortgage interest, student loan interest, or hope/ltl credit. That should just about disenfranchise every person in the US.

  • progressive guy||

    Ok, but only after we disenfranchise everyone who works for a corporation. Because, after public sector unions, who steals more from the people with the aid of government than corporations?

    Oh, John. We're not so different, you and I. We, alone, understand that to save democracy, sometimes you have to strip the civil liberties of the people standing in your way.

  • ||

    Uh, because libertarians are all about expanding rights and rule of law and equal protection even when it means helping out a group hostile to our aims?

    Which is the big difference between "us" and "them."

  • ||

    Whoa, expanding rights? Where the heck did that come from? That's not part of libertarianism, it's just a side effect.

    Libertarianism is about removing the government from every activity that does not involve the protection of the rights to property, life, and bodily integrity. It's not about giving votes to everyone in the universe. Heck, you could even have a libertarian monarchy, with no voting rights at all, in theory -- it's not self-contradictory.

  • DRM||

    Meh. Contractors and lobbyists still escape.

    The beauty of the original setup was that it balanced all the informal influence over the nation that can be gained by proximity to the seat of power by denying those people any formal voice in the affairs of the nation. It didn't balance out perfectly or exactly, but it was a useful check on the concentration of power in the capital.

  • ||

    The beauty of the original setup was that it balanced all the informal influence over the nation that can be gained by proximity to the seat of power by denying those people any formal voice in the affairs of the nation.

    Not really. The counties surrounding DC are full of statist people who derive their income from the federal government, and they aren't disenfranchised.

    It was a bad idea, like the 3/5 vote for blacks was a bad idea, like the 0 votes for women was a bad idea. But it needs to be repealed constitutionally.

  • bubba||

    That only happened with the invention of the automobile. The solution is to expand the boundaries of DC.

  • Publilius||

    Blacks never had 3/5 of a vote. Slaves were counted as 3/5 of a person for purposes of determining how many representatives each state would have in Congress. But slaves had no vote at all.

  • ||

    Why would any libertarian want a city full of leftist socialists to have voting rights on the rest of us?

    Are you OK with disenfranchising voters in NYC, Chicago, LA, Seattle, and virtually every other Deep Blue big city too?

    Or perhaps all blacks and gays?

    I don't doubt that the DC voters would overwhelmingly elect people who are as authoritarian as possible. But there's a principle at stake here.

  • ||

    Nobody in DC has been disenfranchised. They have nearly complete control of their local government. And the district hasn't had representation in Congress since 1789, so the racism / Democratic Party angle is utter nonsense.

  • Brett L||

    Or they could move.

  • alan||

    What is the face of Ezra Klein doing in that Pfizer ad to the side? I don't think my stomach has settled enough from lunch yet to endure something that ugly.

  • Jason Sorens||

    What's wrong with disenfranchising DC, from a liberty point of view?
    Insert shameless blog plug.

  • alan||

    As DC was never intended to be anything more than neutral ground that had no compelling political interest of its own, the eventual solution to this problem will be to declare eminent domain over the entire city as a providence of the Federal government without private ownership even being allowed or considered. Buy up the tracks of neighborhoods and run those whiny bitches that make up the majority of residents to Virginia or Maryland if they want to stay near their jobs. This argument and nonsense has gone on way too long, and though the solution I propose is extreme it is the only one in keeping with the purpose of the city.
    Call it a stimulus for those two states as they are currently being deprived of the taxes that businesses inside of DC do not have to forfeit over to them given the quasi legality of the city's status.

  • ||

    Call it a stimulus for those two states as they are currently being deprived of the taxes that businesses inside of DC do not have to forfeit over to them given the quasi legality of the city's status.

    Uh, just Maryland. Virginia already took its part back a long while ago, during the Not-So-Recent Unpleasantness.

  • alan||

    Also, keep in mind, I'm not talking about ceding land from DC to those states, but of businesses being forced to relocate to outside of the city limits, so Virginia would get a good chunk of that money.

  • Kreel Sarloo||

    The Virgininia part of DC was returned in 1847. that was some time before the Civil War, I think.

  • ||

    I know that, but I would argue that the Unpleasantness had already begun by then. After all, one motive for taking back Alexandria was getting a few extra pro-slavery votes in Congress.

  • Connor MacLeod||

    As DC was never intended to be anything more than neutral ground that had no compelling political interest of its own

    So if this was Highlander, my head would be safe?

  • alan||

    Never assume your head is safe, MacLeod, not after that bad acting.

  • alan||

    True. But knowing Virginia's lawyer class to be mean sons of bitches to a man, I just assumed they would still ask for more if the opportunity arose.

  • alan||

    ^This was in response to JT if not obvious from context.

  • Yonemoto||

    I'm really not sure why we don't just retrocede DC to maryland already. It's been gentrified enough that it ought to be a net tax plus for MD.

  • alan||

    Given they have lobbied hard and got bills like this one considered to enhance their political representation, I don't think think handing the land back to Maryland goes quite far enough as a form of punishment for ever trying to get their hands on two Senate seats. Mow it down as a viable city.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    How are DC residents being "deprived" of a vote?

    There is no reason that DC should be put on the same level as the states with congressional respresentatives and two senators.

    What they want is extra special status that is not due them.

    No other city in the country is elevated to such a special level. There's no reason DC should be either.

  • ||

    I live in VA. I work in DC. Like many thousands of Virginians, I say FUCK DC. They hate Virginians. Marylanders hate Virginians. They think we are a bunch of rubes anyway. I like to cling to my guns (religion, not so much), and it irks me that I have to constantly have to take my gun out of my glove compartment to go to work, or to enjoy the museums and other good shit that I have paid so much for. Did I mention, FUCK DC?

  • Evil Libertarian||

    I'm supportive of the voting rights movement. DC residents (I am one) are citizens and pay taxes and should have representatives in Congress and have the right to elect nut jobs like Eleanor. I do think it will take a Constitutional Amendment to do so, however.

    I get emails from DC Vote, and Zherka's missives have turned into anti-gun screeds and pleas for money, including raffles to win lunch with high-profile progressives (sign me up!). I don't even bother to read them any more.

  • ||

    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 ignoring the Constitution.

    This isn't something that should be fixed with a law. It needs a Constitutional amendment -- that, and/or possibly making DC north of the Potomac a part of Maryland for the purpose of apportioning congressional representation and voting rights.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    This isn't something that should be fixed with a law. It needs a Constitutional amendment -- that, and/or possibly making DC north of the Potomac a part of Maryland for the purpose of apportioning congressional representation and voting rights.


    Would that not also require a constitutional amendment?

  • ||

    The Constitution sez:

    The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof;

    DC is not a state and is not part of a state, and thus there is, indeed, no Constitutional mechanism by which it can elect a representative or Senator.

    Don't be fooled by this:

    but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations

    which allows Congress to weigh in on State election laws, but does not give Congress the authority to allow territories, protectorates, or, for that matter, foreign nations, the right to have Senators and Representatives.

  • ||

    SCOTUS is easily fooled, though. If they consider the power to regulate interstate commerce to include the power to ban feeding one's own pigs corn grown on one's own land, you just know they're not the sharpest tools in the shed.

  • ||

    As always, when push comes to shove, there's the question of standing. Who would have standing to sue for giving DC a vote in the House? Especially if they just add two representatives to get 437...no one loses a representative.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    Who would have standing to sue for giving DC a vote in the House? Especially if they just add two representatives to get 437...no one loses a representative.


    If a law were passed by a one vote margin, with DC'S representative voting in favor of the law, then someone hurt by the law can file for an injunction on the basis that the law was not passed legally because D.C. had no constitutional authority to send a voting representative to the House.

  • ||

    Wasn't there a period of time that DC residents, at least the bits that came from Maryland, were able to vote for Maryland's representatives? Vaguely, I remember reading about that. Then again, I might be making it up.

  • ||

    Here's a proposal to give DC Congressional representation -- one that's completely Constitutional:

    The Constitution says that Congress has the power to choose where the national capital is, and to get land from whatever state the chosen location is in, not exceeding 10 miles square.

    So why don't they ask around and see if any other cities are willing to give up Congressional representation in exchange for becoming the national capital? I'm sure Omaha, or Kansas City, or St Louis or someplace more centrally located would be happy to strike that bargain. All you need is one.

    Then, with the seat of the federal government elsewhere, there's no Constitutional barrier to either making DC a state or absorbing it into Maryland or Virginia. Either way the "taxation without representation" of long suffering DC residents ends.

    And if they're not willing to accept that bargain -- that is, if they think the benefits of having Uncle Sam residing in their city outweigh the costs of not having Congressional representation -- then they can shut the fuck up. You can't have it both ways, DC.

  • ||

    There are times I marvel at your genius, Tulpa. This is one of those times.

    Satan will be ice skating when this happens, but still genius.

  • ||

    It doesn't have to happen, it's just a rhetorical ploy to get DCers to shut up with their moralizing.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "that is, if they think the benefits of having Uncle Sam residing in their city..."

    indeed - such as being the biggest fucking parasite city in the entire country.

  • jtuf||

    We should section off the area around the mall as a federal district and give the rest of the city statehood.

  • ||

    We should section off the area around the mall as a federal district and give the rest of the city statehood.

    Good God, no. That's not even a very big city, much less a state. Give it back to Maryland.

  • ||

    ...and then give Maryland back to the UK.

  • ||

    We should section off the area around the mall as a federal district and give the rest of the city statehood return the rest to Maryland.

    Maybe

  • bubba||

    DC would rather ban guns than vote in congress.

    This doesn't generate much sympathy from me.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    DC would rather ban guns than vote in congress.


    What is their problem with guns?

    Has President Obama's Secret Service detail abused guns recently?

  • ||

    Prolefeed,

    Yes, from a Libertarian standpoint I'd be perfectly fine with reducing blacks to 3/5 of a vote or no voting rights altogether. Blacks vote bad for the most part, so why would I want them voting? Democracy and Libertarianism have nothing to do with each other. From a libertarian standpoint, we'd be best off disenfranchising EVERYONE except maybe Walter Block or someone like that.

  • ||

    Sorry, Matt, but if you want congressional representation, you should:
    (1) Move out of the federal district; OR
    (2) Propose a constitutional amendment.

    Alternatively, convince the feds to retrocede the populated parts of the district to Maryland.

  • ||

    So, DC wants conressional representation but only if they don't have uphold and defend the constitution. Sounds about right for DC.

  • ||

    The story I heard (forgot where I read it) is that the NRA is unalterably opposed to any legislative solution to DC's or anywhere else's gun control laws.

    They are determined to getting a SCOTUS decision unambiguously ruling that the Second Amendment right to bear arms is absolute, incontrovertable and universal.

  • ||

    Really? That's a significant policy shift on their part. Recall that they were so worried about an adverse ruling in Heller that they tried to render it moot by pushing through gun rights legislation for DC when the GOP controlled Congress.

  • WTF||

    The story I heard (forgot where I read it)

    Well that's quite authoritative, then.

    Rather than bare rumor, it's not too hard to find NRA's briefs filed in various court cases, on line, so you can read for yourself, directly from NRA, what they believe the law should be.

    NRA is unalterably opposed to any legislative solution to DC's or anywhere else's gun control laws.

    They are determined to getting a SCOTUS decision unambiguously ruling that the Second Amendment right to bear arms is absolute, incontrovertable and universal.

    That simply is patently false. NRA has long backed tough laws for criminal use of guns and denial of gun possession for certain convicted criminals. And it has shown a willingness to compromise in certain cases on certain restrictions, to preserve other freedoms. And many gun rights enthuisiasts have soundly criticized NRA for that.

    Other gun rights groups, on the other hand, do take a much more absolutist view of the right to keep and bear arms than the NRA. Check out Gun Owners of America - their motto is "No Compromise".

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