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Eleanor Holmes Norton 
Press release on HR 1399, District of Columbia Personal Protection Act
July 22, 2008




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For Immediate Release
July 22, 2008
Contact: Sonsyrea Tate Montgomery 
(202) 225-8050, mobile (202) 225-8143

Norton Seeks to Drive Back Unprecedented Attack on D.C. and the Democratic Majority

Washington D.C.--Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) said she will ask members of both parties to decline to be a part of “a demeaning and disrespectful” effort to discharge from the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, H.R. 1399. “This bill, unworthy of any member of Congress, usurps and seeks to interrupt the District’s statutory home rule right to rewrite its own gun laws as directed by the Supreme Court in Heller v. District of Columbia,” Norton said. “District officials moved quickly to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision by passing emergency legislation, which will be in effect for 90 days as the city continues to develop new permanent gun laws. Discharging a bill from committee is such a grave departure that it has very rarely even been attempted and represents an affront to the full committee, quite apart from violating every principle of American self-government,” Norton said. “Worse, this attempt needlessly seeks to supersede District officials while they are in the process of writing legislation to comply with the Supreme Court decision.”

HR 1399 would repeal D.C. gun laws, repeal the ban on handguns, repeal the ban on semiautomatic weapons, repeal all registration requirements, and eliminate criminal penalties for possessing an unregistered firearm, going far beyond what the Supreme Court decision mandates. 

The sponsor, Representative Mark Souder (R-IN) attempting to discharge, H.R. 1399, from the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, introduced in early 2007, long before the Supreme Court even decided the Heller case. However, the committee declined to interfere with Supreme Court proceedings and D.C. home rule and never held a hearing. A discharge resolution is a rarely used method to remove a bill from committee against the wishes of the chair of the committee. However, Rep. Souder, the sponsor of the petition must collect 218 signatures in support of the discharge petition alone. Once the signatures are collected, the original bill which has received 247 cosponsors would be placed on the Discharge Calendar, and after seven days on that calendar, it can be called up on a privileged motion by any member who signed the discharge petition. If the discharge petition vote passes, the House would vote on the rule and then on the underlying rewrite of D.C.’s gun laws--HR 1399, which has 247 cosponsors. Norton said that her anger was tempered only by the belief that some members who cosponsored the original bill may not have understood that HR 1399 took on the entire task of rewriting the District’s law while that process was already occurring or that the procedure to discharge a bill from committee would offend not only the District of Columbia but the committee involved and the majority in control of the House. Members, under continuing pressure on guns from the National Rifle Association, sometimes believe that they must support anti-home rule legislation involving guns. But, Norton said that there will be no excuse for 64 Democrats joining the 183 Republicans now that the Republicans have attempted a “nuclear bomb procedure, without cause, while the District’s own rewrite process is underway against the Democratic majority.” The Congresswoman is working closely with House leadership to end the congressional rewrite by ensuring that the discharge petition does not achieve the necessary 218 discharge petition signatures.

“I’ve seen some outrageous attempts to violate home-rule, but this nakedly political and unnecessary NRA-driven attempt is a new low because, by acting now, they deny the District the decency and respect due any American jurisdiction going through the prescribed process for complying with the new law.” Norton said, “It’s tragic to see Congress take any time on a local gun matter already under the jurisdiction of the federal courts because some can’t wait to get more guns in our city, augmenting the tragic gun culture--especially today as the city’s Trinidad neighborhood has again been shut down because of gun violence that took the life of a 13-year-old boy, and wounded his mother and several others last weekend.”

The Congresswoman appealed to all members, from both parties, to refrain from taking a course with such serious implications, for no reason at all. However, she said, particularly now that Democrats control the House and Senate, she is asking that members of her own caucus take the lead in ensuring the same respect for the District of Columbia and for her, that all members would expect for their districts and themselves. “Pro-gun members have gotten what they wanted from the Supreme Court.  Now, only one branch of the federal government can prevail on the District’s gun ban,” Norton said. “The Courts alone are empowered to decide if the legislation that finally emerges from the District of Columbia comports with the Supreme Court’s decision. Please allow the District and courts to do their work.”

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