The National Rifle Association has designated as "must" legislation a bill that, according to law enforcement officials, would not only eliminate most of the District of Columbia’s firearm control efforts but also permit the carrying of semi automatic rifles and handguns on the streets of the nation’s capitol. And when the NRA speaks, members of Congress on both sides of the aisle quake.
Welcome to Baghdad on the Potomac, fellow Americans!
This, of course, follows the "brilliant" decision of the U. S. Supreme Court this summer negating the District’s strict anti-gun laws and establishing for the first time that the Second Amendment clearly gives us all the constitutional right to have the capability of shooting one another. Since that time, Washington officials have tried to come up with city legislation that would preserve to some degree control over firearms in a city where gun violence is an every day occurrence.
The House then is expected to pass this abomination and not a much saner approach that was meant to bring the city’s laws into conformity with the court’s narrow decision — a 5-4 disgrace that completely ignored the statistics of death and destruction brought on by unfettered gun access nationwide and even the historic context that brought about the inclusion of the Second Amendment in the Constitution. But that horse already has been shot so beating it makes little sense, at least until the anti-gun forces can bring enough offsetting pressure to bear on the issue.
The bill has been introduced by a back bench Mississippian who apparently believes that an AK-47 or a Mac 10 handgun are suitable accessories to one’s every day dress despite warnings from the city’s police chief that the measure is courting disaster. Both D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier and Chief Phillip Morse of the U.S. Capitol Police and a number of other law officers charged with safeguarding the citizenry raised the specter of a downtown firefight, predicting passage of the measure would make it extremely more difficult to protect national leaders and foreign dignitaries here. Lanier said it would permit anyone to openly carry a battlefield weapon, and a legal analysis issued by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform backs her up. The NRA challenges this, of course.
Under these conditions it seems reasonable to ask whether you would like to attend the ceremonies surrounding the inauguration of a new president? If the answer is yes, it might be wise to buy the best body armor available and throw in a helmet for good measure. There are only two scenarios that can result here. Both are horrible. Police officers and civilians are killed or wounded in a firefight or the president and half the cabinet are wiped out by terrorists who look just like average Americans carrying their legal weapons of mass destruction to the parade.
It is hard to comprehend that in an atmosphere where terrorism is a constant threat in a town that by its very nature is among the most vulnerable that any person or organization would recommend such thoughtless and irresponsible action. More devastating is the possibility that a large number of both Republican and Democrat lawmakers would even consider voting for it. But they will do so because being sensible in this instance might endanger their reelection chances.
Worse perhaps is the silence so far of the Secret Service, the agency that must protect the president and visiting foreign leaders. The agency declined to appear at committee hearings on the bill or even to say why. The heavy betting was that the White House had some hand in that decision for fairly obvious political reasons. One can only hope that it doesn’t come back to haunt President Bush or his successor or their fearless protectors. Well, so much for homeland security and doing the right thing.
It is iffy, given time restraints, whether the Senate can pass this nonsense even if the House does. The NRA is keeping its trigger fingers crossed that its influence is strong enough to make that happen even if the end of the month is targeted for adjournment day. What a shameful piece of business. It is one thing to permit the ownership of handguns and regular rifles for one’s protection but quite another to allow the public ownership and display of weapons that have only one purpose — the elimination of as many people as possible.
To paraphrase Al Pacino in "Scarface," "Say hello to their leetle friends."
(E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at thomassondan(at)aol.com.)