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DC Voting Rights Bill Slowed By NRA Meddling

Esq | , Talib I. Karim | 3/11/2009, 8:47 p.m.

As leaders in the House of Representatives moved to pass the D.C. voting rights bill, the legislation was placed on hold in a move of €legislative gamesmanship by the National Rifle Association. The NRA added an amendment to the bill that would repeal the law to ban guns in the District. With this amendment, the NRA has attempted to blocks the legislation that would give 600,000 District of Columbia residents a full vote in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Senate recently passed S. 160, its version of the D.C. House Voting Rights Act of 2009 by a vote of 61-37. Yet, to get the votes needed for the bill, supporters were forced to accept the NRA amendment. Some members of Congress say they expected the gun amendment would be stripped from the bill after passage in the overwhelmingly Democratic House, including Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).
€I supported the gun amendment because I really believe in the Second Amendment [the right to bear arms],€ said Hatch, while acknowledging that in Utah, guns are generally used for a different purpose than they are in the District.

According to Daniel Vice of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the NRA doesn€t carry the same influence that they have in years past.
€In the last two elections, their money did not mean much. In head-to-head congressional elections we [anti-gun groups] beat them 80 percent of the time €Members should look at the results of the last election and should not be deterred from doing the right thing just because of a threat from a special interest group like the NRA.€

Barron Hill, a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of conservative Democrats in Congress, has said that by adding this amendment, the NRA is attempting to use a procedural tactic to slow D.C. voting rights and that the NRA is meddling in the affairs of Congress.
€The NRA is wrong on this,€ Hill said in a recent National Public Radio interview.

The House Majority Leader, Congressman Steny Hoyer (D-MD) is working with his colleagues to call a vote on legislation for District political rights as early as this week said his spokesperson Stephanie Lundberg.

€Of course, that depends upon progress on opposition over the bill regarding the District€s gun laws,€ Lundberg added.
The District€s Delegate to Congress Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton believes that pro-gun amendments on a bill for voting rights, is €impossible to accept.€ Norton is working with advocates against gun violence as well as groups such as the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights to overcome NRA€s maneuvering.

Concern over the voting rights bill with the NRA attachment has prompted District Council Chair Vincent Gray (D) to ask At-Large District Councilmember Michael Brown (I) to chair a special committee to advance D.C. voting rights, statehood, and self determination. Brown, as chair of the District Council€s Special Committee on Statehood and Self-Determination, believes that D.C. voting rights are essential.

€There may be options for dealing with those [pro-gun] amendments, if they remain in the final version of the District€s voting rights legislation,€ Brown said. However, Brown added that advocates for District rights must speak as one voice to encourage members of Congress, many who also reside in the nation€s capital, to do the right thing.

Talib I. Karim, Esq. can be reached at 202-466-3830.


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