Legislation to give the District of Columbia voting representation in the House stalled short of passage Thursday when Republicans unexpectedly injected the volatile issue of gun control into the debate.

Apparently fearful they might lose control of the proceedings, Democrats decided to postpone action on the voting rights measure, which had appeared to be moving methodically toward passage.

Republicans protested futilely, seeking a quick vote on their attempt to repeal the capital city's ban on handguns.

The developments marked an abrupt turn on legislation that would give District of Columbia residents voting rights in the House for the first time in more than two centuries. President Bush has threatened to veto the bill, saying the Constitution allows congressional voting representation only to states.

But Democrats, backed by civil rights groups, viewed the issue differently.

"It is an historic day, it is a day when the people of the District of Columbia will finally have their voices heard," Speaker Nancy Pelosi said moments before the postponement.

"Washington, D.C., is the only capital in a democracy in the entire world that does not have a voting representative in its parliament," added House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland.

But Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said that since the city "is not a state, it cannot have a voting member in the House."

In addition to granting the nation's capital voting rights in the House, the legislation would create one additional new seat, temporarily awarded to Utah pending the next reapportionment in 2010.

The legislation would not change the makeup of the Senate, where the District of Columbia has no representation.