Teepen: The arming of America

Cox News Service
Friday, September 12, 2008

It begins to appear that the National Rifle Association and the rest of the guns-first crowd won't be satisfied until something approaching the whole American nation is armed against itself. Washington, D.C. is the latest example.

Washington's ordinance outlawing handguns was the vehicle that led to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling this year that the Second Amendment is an individual right and thus forbids any such blanket ban.

The district's City Council has scrambled into compliance with a temporary ordinance and is working toward a permanent one. The council is inclined toward enacting some safety controls that the NRA would abominate — maybe trigger locks, registration, restrictions on semiautomatics: it is so far unclear just what.

So at the gun lobby's prodding, legislation is being pushed in Congress that would strip the district of its right set its own firearms regulations and instead would impose a federal regime that would cancel even the control tolerances indulged in the Supreme Court decision written by Justice Antonin Scalia.

Scalia specified that the right to personal ownership did not override traditional restraints, including bans on firearms in "sensitive places such as schools and government buildings."

The proposed federal intervention would appear to permit the open carrying of semiautomatic rifles, even .50-caliber sniper rifles. This in a capital — speaking of "sensitive places" — where foreign political leaders and diplomats, not to mention our own president and vice president, are routinely whisked around the streets in motorcades — a shooting gallery just waiting to happen.

Not surprisingly, the chiefs of the city and the Capitol police have testified against the proposal. So might have the Secret Service and the U.S. Marshals Service, but who knows? The White House iced them.

This sorry show in Congress is mainly a Democratic production, sponsored by 47 Democrats and five Republicans. The gunners have leaned on conservative Democrats who are up for re-election in iffy districts.

For the moment, there is a reprieve. The House Committee on Oversight and Government reform, voting 21-1, endorsed a substitute proposal that would sustain the City Council's authority.

It is widely believed that the full House will support the intervention instead.

This is far from being just a local district matter. As a federal entity with only limted autonomy, the district is uniquely vulnerable. But, if Congress can poke its nose into firearms regulation there, the precedent could set the stage for a permissive federal statute that would take precedence over local control preferences.

In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, there is new energy in the gun lobby's push in several states for broadened permissions for carrying concealed weapons and for permitting those firearms in ever more places —restaurant bars, workplace parking lots, churches.

One Texas school district has voted to let its school staffs arm. Atlanta has been forced by a gun-happy state legislator into expensive federal-court litigation to defend its long-standing policy of banning guns from the public areas of its airport, the nation's busiest.

The worms are restless, the can of them that the Supreme Court's ruling opened.

Tom Teepen is a columnist for Cox Newspapers. He is based in Atlanta. E-mail: teepencolumn AT earthlink.net

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