House Votes to Ease Restrictions on Gun Ownership

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The pro-gun majority in the House of Representatives moved Wednesday to compel the U.S. capital to broaden the rights of its residents to buy and own firearms, including semiautomatic weapons.

Critics, led by the capital's sole delegate to Congress, decried the action. They said the vote tramples on the city's 's rights to govern itself and could endanger both residents and political dignitaries who so often travel across the city.

But the bill, backed by the National Rifle Association, a weapons advocacy group, bill passed easily, 266-152, with supporters saying they were determined to give capital residents the same right of self-defense that has been available to other Americans under the Second Amendment of the U.S. constitution. .

Many of those speaking for the bill in debate that went well into the night Tuesday were conservative Democrats from rural districts that strongly support gun rights. Eighty-five Democrats voted for the bill.

"Number one, I'm a pro-gun Democrat," said Rep. Mike Ross. "Number 2, if the government of the District of Columbia can take your guns away from you in our nation's capital, Prescott, Arkansas, and many other small towns across the country could be next."

The legislation is unlikely to be taken up in the Senate in the few remaining weeks of this session, but it served both to give lawmakers a pro-gun vote shortly before the Nov. 4 election and demonstrate the continuing political clout of the NRA.

The bill, sponsored by Mississippi freshman Democrat Travis Childers, repeals the capital's semiautomatic handgun ban and overturns a law requiring that firearms kept in the home be locked up and inoperable. It allows capital residents to purchase guns from federally licensed dealers in neighboring Maryland and Virginia and repeals what critics claimed were burdensome registration requirements.

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote last June, ruled that the 32-year-old District ban on handgun possession violated Second Amendment rights to bear arms. Washigton's city Council responded the next month with a temporary measure allowing possession of unloaded weapons in homes but keeping the ban on semiautomatics.

On Tuesday the council went further, voting to allow residents to own most semiautomatic pistols and removing the requirement that weapons be stored unloaded and disassembled or secured with trigger locks.

That was not enough for the NRA and its congressional allies, which accused the council of trying to defy the Supreme Court ruling.