WASHINGTON The pro-gun majority in the House moved Wednesday to compel the nation's capital to broaden the rights of its residents to buy and own firearms, including semiautomatic weapons.
Critics, led by the District of Columbia's sole delegate to Congress, decried the action. They said the vote tramples on the district's right to govern itself and could endanger both residents and political dignitaries who often travel across the city.
But the National Rifle Association-backed bill passed easily, 266-152, with supporters saying they were determined to give D.C. residents the same Second Amendment right of self-defense that has been available to other Americans.
Many of those speaking for the bill in debate that extended well into the night Tuesday were conservative Democrats from rural districts who strongly support gun rights. Eighty-five Democrats voted for the bill.
The legislation is unlikely to be taken up in the Senate in the few remaining weeks of this session, but it gave lawmakers a pro-gun vote shortly before the election and to demonstrated the NRA's continuing political clout.
The bill, sponsored by Mississippi freshman Democrat Travis Childers, would echo action taken Tuesday by the D.C. Council by repealing the district's semiautomatic handgun ban and overturning a D.C. law requiring that firearms kept in the home be locked up and inoperable. It would allow D.C. residents to purchase guns from federally licensed dealers in Maryland and Virginia and repeal what critics claimed were burdensome registration requirements.
D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty said in a statement that he finds it "unacceptable that this bill makes the district the only jurisdiction in the country exempt from a federal law banning residents from buying guns in other states."
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. The D.C. 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 let residents own most semiautomatic pistols and removing the requirement that weapons be stored unloaded and disassembled or secured with trigger locks.
That wasn't enough for the NRA and its congressional allies, which accused the council of trying to defy the Supreme Court ruling.
"This Congress has lost faith in the willingness of the District of Columbia to defend the Second Amendment," said Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind.
But nonvoting Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said Congress was violating the district's home rule rights by imposing federal dictates, something it would do to no other American city.
"The House has the gall to ask for a vote to nullify the gun laws in my district, depriving my district of the right to protect itself and visitors like yourselves while denying me a vote on this floor on passage. Have you no shame?" she declared.
Norton unsuccessfully tried to move a bill that would have merely given the district 180 days to come up with new regulations complying with the Supreme Court ruling. The White House opposed that approach and supported the Childers measure, saying it would "immediately advance Second Amendment principles."
"The president wants to sign the bill this year and urges the Senate to take action on the House-passed bill as quickly as possible to ensure that the residents of the district are able to exercise their Second Amendment rights in a robust and meaningful way," White House press secretary Dana Perino said.
District of Columbia Council Chairman Vincent Gray said the House was rushing "to trample on the rights of D.C. taxpayers ... even as the district government has acted swiftly and responsibly to enact an emergency bill" to address the Supreme Court's ruling.