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Incensed on gun law, Washington steps up call for rights

D.C. mayor berates Congress for policy change

WASHINGTON -- Bitter about efforts to loosen gun restrictions in the US capital, Washington's mayor yesterday told Congress to stay out of the District of Columbia's business and contrasted the fight for democracy abroad with the lack of rights for the city's residents.

Meanwhile, activists touted a symbolic recommendation by the parliamentary assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe calling for full congressional representation for the district. The US Constitution created special status for the district as the seat of federal power. Washington has more than 550,000 residents. While they pay federal taxes, they have no representation in the Senate and the city's delegate to the House cannot vote on the House floor.

According to US Census Bureau data, Wyoming had a smaller population than Washington, D.C., as of July 2004. The populations of Vermont and North Dakota were slightly larger than Washington's.

In wielding its budgetary power over the district last week, the Republican-led House voted to prohibit the city from spending funds to enforce a 29-year-old gun control law requiring any firearms kept at home to be unloaded and disassembled or protected by a trigger lock.

Mayor Anthony Williams, a Democrat, said the House had tried ''to shove their views down our throats" and called on the Senate to show ''more restraint and respect" when the bill came before that body.

The House voted last year to revoke the capital's handgun ban, but the measure stalled because the Senate did not act on it.

''It's really no one's business other than the citizens of the district," Williams told reporters. ''It really is so galling when you're fighting for rights overseas, to build democracy overseas, and then you have the capital of this country just totally disregard any kind of home-rule consideration."

Passed by a vote of 259 to 161, the measure submitted by Representative Mark E. Souder, Republican of Indiana, did not go as far as his recently introduced legislation to revoke Washington's 1976 ban on handguns and semiautomatic weapons, but it indicates strong House support for such a measure.

Currently, rifles, shotguns, and handguns registered before the 1976 ban may be kept in district homes only if they are unloaded, disassembled, and stored in a locked cabinet.

Souder argued that this made them useless for self-defense, and his amendment prohibits the city from enforcing the law with federal funds.

D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey said, ''Now is not the time to introduce more guns into the mix or loosen restrictions on safety." He cited statistics indicating that crime in the city has fallen 14 percent so far this year.

The OSCE recommendation was approved by more than 250 legislators from member countries that were holding the group's annual meeting in Washington.

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