PROVIDING FOR CONSIDERATION OF H.R. 3193, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA PERSONAL PROTECTION ACT -- (House of Representatives - September 29, 2004)
Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. Mr. Speaker, by direction of the Committee on Rules, I call up House Resolution 803 and ask for its immediate consideration.
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Mr. McGOVERN. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from Washington for yielding me the customary 30 minutes, and I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in opposition to the so-called District of Columbia Personal Protection Act and to this closed rule.
Mr. Speaker, today the Republican leadership is, once again, letting the American people down by considering the wrong bill at the wrong time under the wrong circumstances. Once again, we are considering legislation in the shadow of the November elections. With 5 weeks to go until Election Day, the Republican leadership has put the country's agenda on hold in order to force an unnecessary vote on a bad and stupid bill. Once again, the Republican leadership is catering to the special interests at the expense of the public good; and once again, the Republican leadership is squandering the House's very limited time with this foolish, misguided, election-year legislation.
Mr. Speaker, we are just one day away from the end of the fiscal year, and only one, and I repeat, one, appropriation bill has been sent to the White House. Not only are the remaining 12 appropriations bills left on the table, not only has the House failed to complete consideration of all of the appropriations bills, but the Republican leadership, which controls both Houses of Congress, cannot even agree upon a budget.
Mr. Speaker, the Republican leadership cannot get its act together on the highway bill, a bill that would create thousands of good-paying jobs. The Republican leadership cannot find the time to work on a bill to increase the minimum wage, even though wages are stagnant and over 4 million Americans have fallen out of the middle class and into poverty since George Bush became President. And the Republican leadership cannot even get its act together on the Department of Defense authorization or the FSC/ETI bill, each of which has languished in conference for months.
Mr. Speaker, as the House takes up this frivolous legislation today, the Republican leadership has yet to act on the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission report.
Although the other body is working on legislation to implement the 9/11 report and the Democratic leader of this House has introduced legislation that addresses the report's recommendations, here we are today wasting precious time that could be used to debate the 9/11 report's recommendations. Will it take another September 11 anniversary before the Republican leadership will act? Will we see the Republican leaders' bill before the election? Will we have to wait until after November for the necessary reforms that will help make our country and our citizens safer against terror?
Mr. Speaker, if the American people want real leadership on real issues facing the Nation, they certainly should not look to this House of Representatives. Under this Republican leadership, this House has become a place where trivial issues are debated casually, and serious and important ones not at all.
In fact, today, we are debating H.R. 3193, a bill that would overturn Washington, D.C.'s laws and restrictions on the possession of firearms. Among its provisions, H.R. 3193 repeals the District's ban on semi-automatic assault weapons, its gun registration requirements and its ban on cop-killer ammunition.
That is right, Mr. Speaker, this bill puts cop-killer ammunition on the streets of our Nation's capital. Simply put, this legislation makes the Nation's capital a more dangerous place to be a police officer.
As D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams wrote to the congressional leadership, "It is unthinkable that, while the Nation's capital is under alert, Congress should take action to expose more than half a million residents, almost 200,000 Federal workers and 20 million tourists to greater danger."
It is unthinkable, Mr. Speaker, to put our officers at greater risk at a time when Capitol Police expect $20 million in additional unbudgeted expenditures to secure the Capitol Building for this year. The last thing they need to hear is that semi-automatic weapons can now be carried on the National Mall or cop-killer bullets are legal in the District of Columbia.
While the bill changes the law to allow District of Columbia residents to carry pistols, open or concealed, in their homes and places of business, it does not repeal another District of Columbia gun law. The law we will not repeal today is the provision outlawing people carrying or having readily access to firearms "upon the United States grounds or within the Capitol Buildings."
So we will vote to approve guns in another person's workplace in the District but not in our offices.
It is unthinkable that only 2 years after the Washington area was terrorized by snipers who killed ten people in the region and while the Nation's capital is still under terrorist alert, Congress would take action to expose more than half a million District residents, almost 200,000 Federal workers and 20 million tourists to greater danger.
This bill will make the District of Columbia a more dangerous place to live, to work and to study.
Although Members of this body may disagree on gun issues, surely, we can all agree that the citizens of the District of Columbia should not have to face fully-loaded assault weapons on their streets, in their neighborhoods and around their schools.
But, Mr. Speaker, this bill and this rule did not have to be so lousy. Last night, the Committee on Rules had the chance to make this a better bill and a better process. Instead, the leadership of the Committee on Rules decided to pass a rule that makes a mockery of the deliberative process Congress is supposed to follow when we consider bills.
First of all, the Republican leadership brought this bill to the floor without consideration by the committee of jurisdiction, the Committee on Government Reform. Then, last night, when members from both parties brought amendments to our committee, the Committee on Rules rejected them all. The rule does not make in order the gentlewoman from California's (Mrs. Bono) and the gentlewoman from New York's (Mrs. McCarthy) amendment addressing the fact that this bill repeals the ban on cop-killer bullets. This closed rule guarantees that this bill would emerge from this House with no real debate or consideration. This House floor has become a "legislation-free zone."
Mr. Speaker, this issue is about more than guns. This issue is about how the residents of Washington, D.C., are treated. Mr. Speaker, I do not believe that the Members of Congress from Indiana or Texas or Massachusetts have a monopoly on wisdom when it comes to local laws, and I would not presume to impose on the citizens and elected officials of the District of Columbia something that would never, never, never be allowed or accepted by my own city council or State legislature.
Mr. Speaker, not one constituent of any voting Member of Congress will benefit by today's action. As the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette stated in an editorial published just last week on September 21, 2004, "This page believes Washington should be able to set its own gun-control laws but acknowledges that honest people can disagree regarding the city's second amendment rights. But there is little doubt that, right now, Souder's bill is simply a waste of Congress' time and does nothing to improve good government or help his constituents in Indiana."
Mr. Speaker, let us follow what the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette wrote and address the real needs of our constituents.
Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
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Mr. McGOVERN. Mr. Speaker, I yield 3 minutes to the gentleman from Rhode Island (Mr. Kennedy).
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Mr. McGOVERN. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Mr. Speaker, I am a little bit baffled by the previous speaker to imply that somehow the passage of this bill would make the residents of D.C. safer. If this bill is enacted, the following weapons would be lawful to possess:
The AK-47, the Israeli Semiautomatic Uzi Carbine, the Bushmaster X-15, which was used by the D.C. area snipers to kill 10 people in 2002; the Barrett M82 A-1 50-caliber sniper weapon, which has the range of about 1 mile and is used by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and worldwide to penetrate bunkers, to disable armored personnel carriers, and to take down enemy aircraft. This bill would allow fully-loaded assault weapons to be carried in public. This bill would allow armor-piercing ammunition, including cop-killing bullets. This bill would eliminate the District's registration program even for assault weapons. This bill would allow individuals to carry concealed hand guns in their places of business and property.
Mr. Speaker, I cannot believe that anybody can say with a straight face that this will make the residents of D.C. and this country safer.
Mr. Speaker, I yield 10 minutes to the gentlewoman from the District of Columbia (Ms. Norton).
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Mr. McGOVERN. Mr. Speaker, how much time remains on both sides?
The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. Latham). The gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. McGovern) has 8 minutes remaining and the gentleman from Washington (Mr. Hastings) has 20 minutes remaining.
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Mr. McGOVERN. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Mr. Speaker, I include for the RECORD a letter from Mayor Anthony Williams and a letter from the Chief of Police, Charles Ramsey, in strong opposition to this legislation.
We have heard from the gentleman from Oklahoma and we have heard from the gentleman from Georgia who think they know everything about what the people of the District of Columbia need and deserve; how about listening to the mayor of this city and to the police chief of this city who say this is a bad bill which will make the streets of this city more dangerous?
Washington, DC, September 16, 2004.
Hon. TOM DELAY,
Majority Leader, House of Representatives,
Cannon House Office Building, Washington, DC.
DEAR REPRESENTATIVE DELAY: Princess Hansen. James Richardson. Chelsea Cromartie. Myesha Lowe. These are the names of four children who will never see adulthood. These are the names of four children whose parents are devastated by grief. These are the names of four children out of 14 who were killed by illegal guns in the District since January.
On behalf of the residents of the nation's capital, I am writing to express strong displeasure upon learning that federal legislation to repeal the city's gun control laws could shortly come to a vote in the House of Representatives. The District of Columbia Personal Protection Act of 2004 is not just a step back in our efforts to control crime-it is a couple of football fields back.
I take sharp exception to this wholly inappropriate intrusion into what is clearly a local matter. On behalf of the residents of the District of Columbia, I urgently ask you to take no further action on this legislation. It is unthinkable that while the nation's capital is under alert, Congress would take action to expose more than a half a million District residents, almost 200,000 federal workers and 20 million tourists to greater danger.
The District of Columbia has been governed by an elected Mayor and thirteen elected Council members since 1975. During the Council's first legislative session in 1976, the District passed legislation that restricted the possession, use and transfer of handguns and semiautomatic weapons. The courts have upheld the constitutionality of this law and no bill has been passed in the District to water down our gun-control laws since.
District leaders have enacted gun safety legislation based on our citizens' view that any increase in the number of guns in the District increases the likelihood that crimes will be committed with those guns. We have made significant progress in reducing crime, although we still have work to do. This year alone, District residents have witnessed a 24 percent reduction in homicides and a 13 percent decrease in overall crime. There is no way to argue that lifting our weapons bans will not jeopardize this progress. My administration has worked very hard to produce these results and I ask you to respect our efforts by leaving one of our most important anti-crime tools in place. My greatest frustration is that in spite of the significant reduction in homicides, 14 children, the largest number in five years, have been killed by guns this year. These killings, some by children, are reason enough to do no more harm by allowing more guns in our city.
Our residents know all too well the human costs exacted by guns and violence. Eighty percent of all homicides in the District last year were committed with guns, all of which were brought into the city illegally. Because of the porous nature of our borders, we can never rely on laws alone to keep guns out of our city, but these laws are indispensable local tools to combat crime. Our ability to reduce homicides would be severely compromised if-in addition to confiscating guns brought in from other jurisdictions-we were required to combat gun violence from weapons maintained, carried and bought within the District.
We are taking aggressive measures to further reduce homicides and violent crime in the city by increasing the number of sworn officers to 3,800, restructuring our Patrol Service Areas, strengthening our investigative capacity, and improving 911 response times.
For Princess Hansen. For James Richardson. For Chelsea Cromartie. For Myesha Lowe. I implore you to take no further action on the District of Columbia Personal Protection Act of 2004. The citizens of the District of Columbia want nothing more than other American citizens would demand and get-the right to make our own decisions about our public safety.
Anthony A. Williams,
Washington, DC, February 25, 2004.
Hon. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON,
House of Representatives, Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC.
DEAR CONGRESSMAN NORTON: I am writing to express my strong opposition to any efforts in Congress to eliminate or weaken current laws regulating handgun ownership and possession in the District of Columbia.
As a law enforcement officer with more than 35 years of experience, I know first-hand the devastation of handgun violence in our urban neighborhoods. One need look no farther than Ballou and Anacostia Senior High Schools in Southeast DC for recent examples of gun tragedies: two young student-athletes gunned down this school year, either inside or just outside their school building. Like these two killings, nearly 80 percent of the homicides in the District of Columbia are committed with a firearm, not to mention countless assaults, robberies and other crimes of violence.
The District is facing nothing short of a crisis when it comes to gun crime and gun violence. Every day, our residents-and our police officers-are confronted by far too many firearms, that are easily accessible to far too many people-including young people-who should not possess them. Last year alone, Metropolitan Police officers recovered nearly 2,000 firearms, and we are on track to increase that total this year. To somehow suggest that the District would be safer by introducing even more lethal firepower into our city is pure folly. To reduce crime and prevent more senseless tragedies like the recent killings at Anacostia and Ballou, we need fewer-not more-weapons on our streets. And we need to have strong laws that allow our police officers to identify and arrest criminals who carry guns in our city.
I appreciate your strong support of DC's gun laws, and I stand ready to assist in working to retain and, if necessary, strengthen those laws. You know, as I do, that tough and sensible gun laws help make our communities-and our police officers-safe. The District of Columbia cannot afford to go backwards when it comes to combating gun violence.
Charles H. Ramsey,
Chief of Police.
Mr. McGOVERN. Mr. Speaker, I yield 4 minutes to the gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Wynn).
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Mr. McGOVERN. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself the balance of my time.
Mr. Speaker, let me begin by reading a "Dear Colleague" letter from the gentleman from California (Mr. Waxman), the ranking member, and the gentleman from Virginia (Chairman TOM DAVIS) entitled Please "Oppose H.R. 3193."
They write, "We are writing to urge you to oppose H.R. 3193, a bill that would make Washington, D.C. less safe. H.R. 3193 falls within the jurisdiction of the Committee on Government Reform, but was not considered by the committee."
They say this bill "repeals the D.C. laws that restrict the possession of firearms in the District of Columbia. Among the laws repealed are the ban on semiautomatic assault weapons, the ban on armor-piercing ammunition, and the gun registration requirements. Although one can debate the merits of some of D.C.'s gun laws, no one should question the importance of keeping fully-loaded assault weapons off the streets of the Nation's Capital city.
"Another problem with H.R. 3193 is its impact on home rule for the District of Columbia. Congress would never act to repeal the gun laws for communities in Northern Virginia or Southern California. Whether we agree or disagree with the District's laws, we should accord the mayor and District city council that same respect.
"Please join us in voting no on H.R. 3193." This letter was signed by the gentleman from Virginia (Chairman Davis) and the gentleman from California (Mr. Waxman).
A number of speakers have said D.C.'s gun laws violate the second amendment. They do not violate the second amendment. In a recent NRA-inspired lawsuit, D.C. citizens challenged the constitutionality of the city's gun laws. In a decision styled Seegers v. Ashcroft, a D.C. Federal court judge found that the D.C. gun laws did not violate the plaintiff's second amendment rights. In fact, because the second amendment specifically applies to State militias, the court held that the amendment cannot apply to the District of Columbia, which is not a State.
Mr. Speaker, this body considered this issue in 1999 when the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Goode) offered this repeal as an amendment to the gun show bill. That amendment was defeated by a vote of 175-250. This House has already spoken. Members defeated that awful idea then, and I hope they will defeat it again today when this bill comes to the floor.
I hope Members of this House will stand up to the NRA and will do the right thing, will do the right thing by the citizens of this city. How anybody can make the case that making more military-style assault weapons available on the streets of D.C. somehow is going to decrease crime is beyond me. It makes no sense at all.
This is an arrogant bill, where people who have no idea what is going on in this city are imposing their will on the people of the District of Columbia.
Mr. Speaker, I include for the RECORD two editorials, one from the Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne, Indiana, entitled "Where Are Souder's Priorities" and the other from "The Decatur Daily Democrat" entitled "Souder's Contempt."
I wish the gentleman who introduced this bill would have paid attention to the editorials from his home newspapers. They are right. D.C. has a right to determine its fate on these gun laws. Congress has no business repealing what the local leaders and legislators in D.C. have decided. I hope all Member of Congress do the right thing, will stand up for our kids, will stand up for our police. All of the police officers, the police chief, the police associations, are all against this bill. Let us do the right thing and defeat this bill.
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
COMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENT REFORM,
Washington, DC, September 27, 2004.
Please Oppose H.R. 3193
DEAR COLLEAGUE: We are writing to urge you to oppose H.R. 3193, a bill that would make Washington, D.C., less safe. H.R. 3193 falls within the jurisdiction of the Government Reform Committee, but was not considered by the Committee.
H.R. 3193 repeals the D.C. laws that restrict the possession of firearms in the District of Columbia. Among the laws repealed are the ban on semiautomatic assault weapons, the ban on armor-piercing ("cop-killer") ammunition, and the gun registration requirements. Although one can debate the merits of some of D.C.'s gun laws, no one should question the importance of keeping fully loaded assault weapons off the streets of the nation's capital city.
Another problem with H.R. 3193 is its impact on home rule for the District. Congress would never act to repeal the gun laws for communities in Northern Virginia or Southern California. Whether we agree or disagree with the District's laws, we should accord the Mayor and the D.C. City Council the same respect.
Please join us in voting "No" on H.R. 3193.
Henry A. Waxman,
Ranking Minority Member.
[From the Journal Gazette, Sept. 21, 2004]
Editorial: Where Are Souder's priorities?
Northeast Indiana residents have good reason to question where Congressman Mark Souder's priorities lie.
Souder has been receiving national exposure, not for anything he's doing for his constituents but for his attempts to use the Federal government to overturn a local government decision.
Our congressman believes people in Washington D.C., should be able to carry assault rifles and handguns.
He believes that Washington police should not be able to jail anyone for having unregistered weapons.
He believes District of Columbia workers should face no criminal penalties for carrying a gun to work.
The District of Columbia has banned handguns, but Souder thinks the Federal government should step in and overturn this local decision because Souder knows what's better for residents of the District of Columbia than they do.
Congressional leaders have placed a priority on Souder's bill-cynically called the District of Columbia Personal Protection Act-mostly to force House Democrats to cast a vote on a gun control issue before Nov. 2.
This misplaced priority comes days before the fiscal year will begin with 12 of the 13 spending bills needed to keep the government running yet to be approved.
Many political observers believe Souder's legislation has little chance in the U.S. Senate, making the D.C. gun bill an exercise in political gamesmanship.
Souder must need the diversion, coming at the end of Congress' longest summer vacation since Harry Truman was in the White House.
In a statement that has become sadly characteristic of our congressman, Souder compared gun control to owning slaves, telling the Washington Post, "The fact is, we didn't allow the District to have home rule on the selling of slaves, either."
Souder's bill earned him attention in the Post and in the Sunday New York Times shortly after receiving some publicity in U.S. News & World Report for his action on another issue of vital importance to Hoosiers-lighthouses.
Souder railed against a North Carolina congressman for wanting the Homeland Security Department to audit the group that operates the North Carolina Currituck Beach Lighthouse.
During an unrelated hearing, Souder blasted the efforts as "one of the biggest travesties of justice I have ever seen."
Perhaps Souder is unaware of the 14 children who have been gunned down in Washington this year.
Perhaps he is unaware that the handgun ban helped D.C. police take nearly 2,000 guns away from criminal suspects last year and more than 1,300 so far this year.
Perhaps his beloved lighthouses and efforts to embarrass Democrats have become too important.
This page believes Washington should be able to set its own gun-control laws but acknowledges that honest people can disagree regarding the city's Second Amendment rights. But there is little doubt that right now, Souder's bill is simply a waste of Congress' time and does nothing to improve good government or help his constituents in Indiana.
[From the Decatur Daily Democrat, Sept. 20, 2004.]
Rep. Mark Edward Souder is about as interested in the hopes, fears and aspirations of District of Columbia residents as a rock along the Maumee River in his northeast Indiana congressional district.
What does engage the Republican congressman's enthusiasm is the prospect of forcing House Democrats to vote on a gun control law in a hotly contested election year. That helps explain why Souder is pressing for a vote in his bill, which would remove the District's stringent ban on handguns, lift a restriction against semiautomatic weapons, end registration requirements for ammunition and other firearms, and cancel criminal penalties for possessing unregistered firearms and carrying a handgun in one's home or workplace.
Wasting no opportunity to thumb their noses at D.C. residents who strongly support the handgun bans-and to ingratiate themselves with gun rights groups-House Republican leaders have promised Souder a vote before the Nov. 2 election. A more contemptible display of cynicism would be hard to find.
Souder maintains that his bill is not an incursion on home rule but rather is based on the Second Amendment's guarantee of gun rights. He's wrong, of course. The District's authority to enact gun control laws has been successfully challenged in court. Likewise, if Congress adopts language that denies the city's elected leaders "authority to enact laws or regulations that discourage or eliminate the private ownership or use of firearms"-as proposed by Souder-what is that but a restriction on the city's self-governing powers? Besides, the District is hardly unique: Seven states also have their own bans on assault weapons. But it's not the Constitution that is at issue. Souder and the House GOP leadership are out to put Democrats on the defensive, especially those in competitive congressional races where the gun lobby might hold sway.
It matters not a bit to Souder and his gun allies that the D.C. police department has its hands full trying to keep deadly weapons off the streets. Last year D.C. police recovered 1,982 firearms from criminal suspects. As of Sept. 8, D.C. cops had already recovered 1,385 guns this year. Justifiable concerns that repeal of the city's gun laws would worsen violence on D.C. streets have fallen on deaf ears in the U.S. Capitol. House Republicans, if they have their way, would just as soon turn the nation's capital into a free-fire zone-and for cheap political reasons.
It is small comfort to observe, as some have, that the Souder bill would have dim prospects in the Senate this year. This offensive and opportunistic bill should not be allowed to see the light of day in the House of Representatives. But to say that is to hope that respect for the rights of District residents would rank above lust for partisan advantage.
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