Rubio proposes bill to repeal DC gun laws

Elie Salem

Florida Senator Marco Rubio recently reintroduced legislation to weaken DC gun laws. If the bill manages to pass, multiple DC firearm restrictions would be repealed and local legislators would be unable to pass stricter gun control laws in the future.

Rubio introduced the bill in January of 2017, titled the “2nd Amendment Enforcement Act of 2017” to Congress. To justify the reasoning behind his legislation, Rubio identified ‘congressional findings’ regarding the inadequacy of DC gun laws. Foremost, Rubio stated that DC’s current gun laws have been found to be in violation of the Second Amendment by federal courts and therefore need to be replaced.

The only specific reference he made to support this assertion was the court case District of Columbia v. Palmer, in which DC’s ban on carrying handguns outside of the home was struck down. That case occurred in 2014, however, and is no longer a facet of local firearm statutes.

In addition to his usual statements regarding the Second Amendment, Rubio’s congressional findings noted that DC is “one of the most dangerous large cities in the United States,” and an inability to own firearms limits the ability of Washingtonians and visitors alike to protect themselves from violent crime. After DC passed stricter gun laws, Rubio inaccurately claimed that, “violence skyrocketed.”

Virginia House Republican Tom Garrett, who introduced the companion bill in the House, agreed with Rubio. Garrett stated that many gun-owning Virginians felt unsafe and insecure in DC because the city has among the highest violent crime rates in the United States, but Virginians were unable to protect themselves with their firearms when they entered.

Unlike local administration around the nation, the Constitution gives Congress wide jurisdiction to both pass legislation relating to DC and block legislation passed by the DC Council.

The bill effectively dismantles much of the “Firearm Control Regulations Act of 1975,” a strict gun control package passed by Washington lawmakers over four decades ago, which brings DC practices closer in line with loose federal law. The third section of the legislation states that no law can prohibit DC residents from using or carrying a firearm not prohibited by federal law or barred by Chapter 53 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986. In its following provisions, the bill repeals the semi-automatic weapons ban and drops the bar from 21 to 18 years of age to own a firearm.

The District of Columbia does not require a license to own a firearm, but in a very similar process, a DC resident must complete an application to register their firearm, with qualifications and rejections similar to the process required to obtain a license. The bill removes the criminal punishments for carrying an unregistered firearm with few exceptions, effectively neutralizing DC’s system of vetting firearm applicants.

Perhaps most controversially, the bill allows guns purchased from other states, often with much weaker restrictions, to be used in DC, and allows any dealer in compliance with looser federal law to sell firearms. If a DCPS school does not have a set of specified safety precautions, visitors would be legally allowed to enter with a concealed firearm. The sum of these policies is the reversal of Washington from being among the cities with the strictest gun laws to a roughly Republican model of relaxed gun restrictions.

DC’s overwhelmingly Democratic politicians were resistant to the legislation. DC’s non-voting representative Eleanor Holmes Norton blasted Rubio and the House advocate of the bill Tom Garrett (R-Va) in a statement. “The Rubio-Garrett DC gun bill is straight from a National Rifle Association wish list…[The bill] goes out of its way to allow guns in the District’s schools. This bill was outrageous even before Parkland, and I call on Senator Rubio and Representative Garrett to disavow it now,” she said.

Mayor Muriel Bowser wrote an op-ed in the Miami Herald ripping Rubio for the ‘hypocrisy’ of supporting tighter gun laws after the Parkland shooting in his home state of  Florida, while simultaneously dismantling gun laws in the district.

In defense, Rubio sent a letter to Bowser stating that they “shared a common goal.” His bill, he believes, brings DC in line with federal law. If federal law is changed to have more gun control precautions, which Rubio has been half-heartedly advocating, DC law would be transformed in turn.

Despite the raucous debate the bill has initiated, the chances of it passing Congress are slim. In light of the Parkland shooting and the March for Our Lives rally, Rubio is missing the most important commodity on Capitol Hill: momentum. The Republicans possess two thin, unruly majorities who are neither united behind strong pro-gun measures nor easily able to secure Democratic support.

Skopos Labs, a company which uses precision AI technology and data synthesis to analyze various legislative activities, predicts the bill has only a 25 percent chance of passing the House. The chance of Rubio passing the bill through the Senate is 13 percent.

After the bill was introduced, Rubio received waves of praise from pro-gun media outlets. Guns Today, The New American, and The Daily Caller, strongly supported Rubio’s bill with statements such as, “[the bill would] end the Washington, DC, council’s ongoing war against guns.”