Tuesday, March 10, 2009

DC Voting Rights Bill is Stalled in the House!!


Legislation that passed the U.S. Senate (S. 160, the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act ) two weeks ago to give the residents of the District of Columbia voting representation in Congress is currently stalled in the House over the issues of gun violence and self-rule. Specifically, just prior to final passage by the Senate, Senator John Ensign proposed an amendment which would override all of the city's gun violence prevention laws. Many of these laws have been in place for almost 30 years and were enacted through the democratic process by the residents of the District of Columbia. They affect only D.C. residents who have consistently supported laws to ban handguns bought after 1976, require that registered firearms bought before 1976 must be kept unloaded and disassembled, or with the trigger locked and outlawed assault weapons altogether.

In addition to our strong support of H.R. 157 the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act (the House companion to S. 160) the NAACP also strongly opposes any move to repeal the District's self-enacted gun safety measures. While some may disagree with these laws, it is clear that they were enacted democratically by officials who were duly elected by the citizens of the District of Columbia and that they continue to enjoy the support of the majority of the people who live under them. The mayor and the city council, all of whom were acting on behalf of their constituents, drafted, debated and finally enacted this legislation as a means of protecting their constituents, their families, and law enforcement officers. The fact that these laws have remained on the books for more than 28 years is significant; the people of the District of Columbia, faced with unacceptably high rates of death by firearm (169 in DC in 2001) and the huge human and economic costs associated with gun violence (the closing of DC General hospital, which was overwhelmed by uninsured citizens coming in with gunshot wounds) have continued to support a variety of gun control laws to stem the tide of violence.

So we must now urge the House of Representatives to support H.R. 157, the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act and to oppose any amendments that would undermine or ignore the democratic will of the residents of the District of Columbia, especially as they relate to gun violence. Despite the fact that they pay federal taxes, serve on juries and defend our Nation in times of war like most other Americans, the residents of the District of Columbia are barred from having voting representation on the floor of the U.S. House or Senate. This classic example of "taxation without representation" is contrary to everything that this nation is founded on. This means that more than half a million people, more than 57% of whom are African American (with Caucasians making up just over 30% of the population and 8.5% of the residents claiming Hispanic background), are paying money to and dying for a government in which they have no say. It also means that the federal government is receiving and spending $4 billion without having to account for it.

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