By Molly K. Hooper - 04/19/10 11:41 PM EDT
Gun-control advocates are threatening to scuttle a Washington, D.C., voting-rights bill that would weaken gun control laws in the nation’s capital.
The lobbying blitz comes after House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) announced late last week that they are willing to accept gun-rights provisions in order to secure a voting representative in the lower chamber. The yet-to-be-released bill is expected to hit the House floor later this week.
Advocacy groups have sent out alerts to their activists to bombard Capitol Hill offices to show opposition to a compromise they say goes too far.
Late Monday afternoon, the president of the League of Women Voters of the United States and the D.C. League of Women Voters president announced their “reluctant” and “sad” opposition to a measure they have fought for more than 50 years.
“The League of Women Voters believes that destruction of D.C.’s gun-safety laws is too high a price to pay for passage of the D.C. Voting Rights Act,” Mary G. Wilson and Billie Day said in a joint statement.
Further, they state, “[N]o one should be under any illusions about how comprehensive and destructive the gun amendments could be if they are adopted as part of final legislation. They not only wipe out D.C. laws designed to protect lives, they also change federal law to allow purchase of weapons across state lines in Virginia and Maryland.”
Gun-control lawmakers have yet to devise a plan to defeat the measure, an aide to a likeminded House member told The Hill, conceding that they weren’t likely to win that battle.
A majority of members of Congress support gun rights. Democrats on Capitol Hill have been reluctant to move bills in recent years that would trigger opposition from the powerful National Rifle Association.
Meanwhile, Helmke’s group in January gave Obama an “F” for his first year in office. It is unclear if the White House will endorse the compromise bill.
Norton’s measure, which would also create an at-large seat for the red state of Utah, has been on hold since last year, when the bill coming out of the Senate included a rider seeking to overturn the D.C. gun ban.
Despite fighting to move her bill without the gun ban language for over a year, Norton announced last week that a bill creating a congressional seat for D.C. was better than nothing and the window of opportunity was closing on moving such a measure.
Noting her leadership in the fight against the “gun attachment,” Norton wrote in a statement last week that “the strength of gun forces in the Congress has grown, not diminished, over the year since we began working. … It is now clear that the gun amendment can be passed as a standalone bill or attached to another piece of legislation, and we see no better opportunity in sight for voting rights for our residents. The Democratic majorities in the Senate and in the House are already diminishing and are expected to be reduced even further. Moreover, this is the first time we have had a president in office who will sign the bill along with majorities in Congress to pass it.”
But that price is too high to pay, Helmke said.
“She’d really like to have her vote count, and she’s concerned that after the elections this fall they won’t get another chance to get a vote for the District. And that’s a legitimate concern, but our feeling is that that’s giving up too much to gut the nation’s gun laws.”
Helmke intends to participate in a rally against the D.C. Voting Rights bill later this week.
Hoyer’s and Norton’s offices did not comment by press time.
Even if the House clears the bill, Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah) — a prominent GOP backer of giving D.C. a vote in the House — has threatened to filibuster it. Hatch has balked at giving Utah an at-large House representative instead of dividing the state into four districts.