A years-old feud between the District of Columbia and the National Rifle Association is raging anew, as the powerful gun lobby throws its might behind GOP legislation aiming to strike down local firearm restrictions.
The showdown centers around the Second Amendment Enforcement Act, introduced last week by Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioSenators introduce new Iran sanctions Senate intel panel has not seen Nunes surveillance documents: lawmakers With no emerging leaders, no clear message, Democrats flounder MORE (R-Fla.) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). The bill is designed to roll back many of the barriers to gun ownership in Washington, D.C.
The emerging battle has once again put the deeply liberal District at “the epicenter” of the national gun debate, according to the congresswoman who represents Washington.
D.C.’s involvement as a major player on gun control issues dates back decades. In the early 1970s, Congress passed “home rule,” giving Washington, D.C., the authority to govern the city's local affairs.
Shortly thereafter, Washington, D.C., issued a controversial ban on handguns, which prohibited residents from not only carrying guns in public, but even possessing firearms in their own homes for personal protection.
Gun control advocates argued the ban was necessary for a city that suffered from a high crime rate. Second Amendment advocates were irate, setting off the first in a series of legal battles pitting the NRA — and its congressional allies — against the District.
“The relationship between Congress and Washington, D.C., over guns has been so contentious because the city government keeps passing very strict gun control laws but Republicans are very opposed to gun control,” said UCLA law professor Adam Winkler, author of Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America.
The Supreme Court struck down the handgun ban in a 2008 case known as District of Columbia v. Heller, but the city subsequently issued a series of restrictive gun laws that forced gun owners to go through hoops just to keep firearms in their homes.
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., gun owners were still prohibited from carrying firearms outside their homes in public.
The question is “whether the right to bear arms gives you the right to carry guns in public?” asked Winkler.
In another blow to Washington, D.C.'s gun laws, the rule against concealed carry was also struck down last year in federal court in a case known as Palmer v. District of Columbia. The city waived the white flag this week, signaling it would drop an appeal of the court's decision.
Despite these rulings, the NRA contends that the strict gun laws in Washington, D.C., make it all but impossible for people to carry firearms around the city.
Twenty-one residents have qualified for concealed carry permits in Washington, D.C., according to the police department.
"They want to be more restrictive than they’re allowed to be under the Constitution, which is the problem,” an NRA official told The Hill. “They’re not looking to make it reasonable for law-abiding citizens and difficult for criminals. They’re making it difficult across the board.”
But the new Republican legislation could change that.
The Second Amendment Enforcement Act would expand the city’s concealed carry laws, making it easier for residents and tourists from other states to legally carry firearms in Washington, D.C.
"A lot of American tourists visit Washington, D.C. They want to view the Capitol and the museums, but they also want to be safe," the NRA official said.
In addition to making it easier to carry guns in Washington, D.C., the gun bill would also make it more difficult for law enforcement to keep track of those firearms.
The legislation would get rid of the city’s gun registry.
“If you’re registering a firearm, the government knows who has what firearms, how many firearms they have, what you’re doing with them,” the NRA official said. "That’s none of the government’s business.”
Currently, residents can only buy guns from two legally authorized firearms dealers in Washington, D.C., according to the police department, but the Republican legislation would also allow people to buy guns in the neighboring states of Virginia and Maryland.
The politics surrounding the gun bill aren't sitting well with Democrats and gun control groups.
Shortly after introducing the legislation, the NRA boosted Rubio’s rating on gun rights in advance of his expected presidential run, prompting Norton to suggest he made a deal with the gun lobby to help him win over Republican voters.
But the NRA disputed the charges. Rubio's rating hadn't been updated since before he took office, the gun lobby explained, and the higher rating was based on the entirety of his votes in Congress.
"Rubio has a perfect voting record in the Senate," NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said. "His rating reflects five years worth of votes in defense of the Second Amendment.”
The White House has publicly come out against the bill. Norton called the gun bill an “act of abuse and disrespect” toward Washington, D.C.
“Washington D.C.’s gun laws are attacked on a daily basis by many Republicans,” she said.