GOP gunslinging in D.C.
WASHINGTON — Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison feels sorry for us here in the District of Columbia. She's seen our crime-plagued streets, she feels our pain, and she's decided she has an answer for us. She wants to eliminate the majority of our gun laws.
What inspired the plucky Texan to decide to suddenly stand up for all of us? It probably wasn't the mayor or the police commissioner or the school superintendent, who all announced they oppose her idea. And the decline in the city's homicide rate didn't suggest a drastic need for change.
No, in the end, she says, she introduced the "D.C. Personal Protection Act of 2005," because of her "constitutional responsibility to oversee the District of Columbia," she said at a news conference to announce the legislation.
Apparently those of us living in the nation's capital are being denied our Second Amendment rights and, well, she's just trying to help.
There are more than a few questions about the good senator's beneficence. There's the fact that the courts have decided that laws like the District's, which prohibits handguns, aren't any sort of violation of the Constitution, so we aren't really being denied anything - that's probably why the senator and her friends aren't going to court to have the D.C. rules thrown out. There's the argument that putting more unregistered guns, including semiautomatic weapons, in people's hands is probably not a sound way to increase safety in a densely populated, high-crime municipality.
But perhaps the most confounding part of this proposal is this: why is the Republican Party, the party of states' rights, deciding that in this case the federal government should supersede the will of the people living in the District? When did the GOP suddenly become the party that believes the federal government knows best?
The move from Hutchison - who's mulling a run for governor in Texas, where NRA support would be extremely helpful - is the most ridiculous federal power play since, well, last year when the House actually passed a version of the D.C. Personal Protection Act. The bill died in the Senate when it seemed the votes weren't there.
But this year there's new hope from the Republicans in the upper chamber. The bill already has 20 cosponsors and a spokesman from the senator's office says he believes they will soon have 50.
What has happened to the Republicans? They once played a critical role in American politics as the wary half of the two-party system - the skeptical counterbalance to the Democrats, who, left to their own devices, would spin out of control. Now, it seems the GOP is just interested in spinning off in a different direction.
A little reality check here for Senator Hutchison. Texas is not Washington, D.C. That's not a jab at either place. It's simply a fact. And truth be told, it's a fact that probably sits well with a majority of people living in each territory. A cattleman actually works with cattle down there; here he's probably with the beef lobby.
The gun laws in Texas are much looser than they are in Washington, and while the crime rate is lower in the Lone Star state, believe it or not, violent crime has not disappeared. In fact, the latest data available show the murder, rape, and aggravated-assault rates are much higher in Dallas and Houston than they are in the great, scary, gun-law-laden metropolis of New York.
None of that is to say that Dallas or Houston should change their laws to mirror New York's. There are a whole host of circumstances that go into a city's crime rate, ranging from unemployment to educational factors. But what it does say is that New York's system probably isn't all bad.
And regardless, the people living in those cities are entitled to live with guns in the way they'd like. If the good people of Texas want to walk around sporting semiautomatic rifles on their shoulder, all I can say is, "Good for you, Texans" - while I quietly creep out the door to buy stock in Kevlar vest makers.
The point is that such a decision is theirs to make, just as the District's gun control laws should be up to the people here. As much as we appreciate Hutchinson's concern, she might want to consider the possibility that the people here don't feel she or other members in Congress should have so much say in our own governance. There was a time when the people in her party felt the same way.
• Dante Chinni is a senior associate with the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism. He writes a twice-monthly political opinion column for the Monitor.