By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
The excellent Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher writes in his column today that in order to secure their voting rights, D.C. pols should not fight the gun issue with Congress. I reluctantly conclude Fisher's correct.
One thing should be clear after all these years: In any face-off between Congress and the District, the lords on the Hill win. They control the budget. They sign off on the laws. If they want to send the mayor back to the family shoe store, they could do so tomorrow. On this plantation, that's how it will always be.
So what's the District to do when Congress decides it might be fun to make voting rights for Washingtonians contingent on stripping the city of the power to regulate gun ownership?
If you ask D.C. politicians, the answer is to stamp their feet and insist on having it their own way.
Local politicians are risking the principle of congressional representation in order to stand on the principle of being able to make local decisions about gun control. Here's the thing: D.C.'s ability to make its own decisions regarding gun control is illusory. As Fisher notes, Congress can do whatever it damn well pleases.
So what we're talking about is risking congressional representation over a hollow battle.
Now the forces fighting for a D.C. vote have a choice: Insist on purity — a clean voting rights bill with no gun bits attached — and lose. Or cave to reality, knowing that a vote is forever, but gun policies will shift as popular attitudes evolve.
Congress will always conduct its little experiments on the District, so the city's belief that it can set its own course on guns is delusional. But it is possible to play politics and make some real progress. And a seat in the House is very real — a recognition, finally, that a vote is a basic right. It's a way to tell thousands of disillusioned, disenfranchised D.C. children that they really are citizens of the United States.
Fisher suggests some legislative compromises D.C. leaders could offer that might grease the wheels. They would be smart to read his column—better to compromise here than, as Reagan used to say, go "off the cliff with all flags flying."
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