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The man who single-handedly scuttled voting rights for DC


Paul Helmke - President of the Brady Campaign

On Monday April 19th, DC residents seeking a vote in Congress were on the verge of achieving what they had worked for over 50 years to accomplish. Both houses of Congress were willing to grant DC a voting seat in Congress. The catch? In order to get the voting seat, they had to accept an easing of DC’s draconian gun laws. That’s right ... in order to get one right that they felt strongly about, all they had to do was accept other rights for the residents of DC.

The deal had been accepted by DC’s non-voting Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md). While both opposed the gun-rights amendment introduced by Senator John Ensign (R-NV), they had agreed to the deal the prior week noting that the window of opportunity for passing DC voting legislation was closing. In a released statement, Norton commented that

The strength of gun forces in the Congress has grown, not diminished, over the year since we began working. ... It is now clear that the gun amendment can be passed as a standalone bill or attached to another piece of legislation, and we see no better opportunity in sight for voting rights for our residents. The Democratic majorities in the Senate and in the House are already diminishing and are expected to be reduced even further. Moreover, this is the first time we have had a president in office who will sign the bill along with majorities in Congress to pass it.

DC Mayor Adrian Fenty agreed with Norton, noting that gun-rights supporters would ultimately weaken the city’s gun laws regardless of whether they accomplished it via this legislation and by supporting the bill with the Ensign amendment, DC would finally get a voting seat in Congress.

Therefore, Monday morning Norton and Hoyer happily announced that they were expecting the bill to be voted on in the House later in the week.

And then ... all Hell broke loose. The Brady Campaign, seeing one of the last, failed bastions of gun control on the verge of disappearing, mustered what little influence they still had and called on their remaining supporters to scuttle the bill.

Suddenly, groups that had long been vocal supporters of DC voting rights decided that a voting seat wasn’t that important after all. Not if they had to allow the residents of DC the same gun rights enjoyed throughout the rest of the country. Mary G. Wilson and Billie Day of the League of Women Voters of the United States and the D.C. League of Women Voters issued a joint statement saying that the "destruction of D.C.’s gun-safety laws is too high a price to pay for passage of the D.C. Voting Rights Act."

Paul Helmke of the Brady Campaign expressed little sympathy for Norton and the DC residents she represents even if his intervention permanently cost them their chance at a voting seat in Congress.

She’d really like to have her vote count, and she’s concerned that after the elections this fall they won’t get another chance to get a vote for the District. And that’s a legitimate concern, but our feeling is that that’s giving up too much to gut the nation’s gun laws.

Under pressure from the ragged remnants of the gun control lobby and abandoned by their supposed allies, the very next day (Tuesday, April 20th) the Democratic Leadership backed down and withdrew the bill from consideration, abandoning voting rights for DC for the foreseeable future, perhaps permanently.

Exactly one week later, as predicted by both Norton and Fenty, a standalone bill to bring DC’s gun laws in line with the rest of the country was introduced by Senators McCain (R-Ariz.) and Tester (D-Mont.).

So where does this leave DC? Regardless of the legislative vehicle, the near future almost certainly holds an easing of DC’s draconian gun laws. But the same cannot be said for DC voting rights. It may literally be decades before there is once again a political environment that will even consider it.

When DC voting rights supporters recover from their shock enough to ask "What just happened?", Norton and Fenty should remind them that they have only Paul Helmke and the gun control movement to thank.

One just has to wonder. What is it about DC residents that gun control advocates fear so much?


  • Robert McCall 5 years ago

    Well, there is nothing like dealing with rational & reasonable people such as the Brady bunch (sarcasm). They did a variation on the self destructive act of cutting off their nose to spite their face. Only, in this case it was the noses of the residents of DC. But, I guess it goes hand in hand with the rationality of their gun control views.

  • Big E 5 years ago

    I wonder if this picture had anything to do with it?

    This is Mike Vanderboegh engaging Paul at the RTC rally at Gravelly Point-within sight of the Capitol dome and Washington Monument. Nothing but love...

  • Robert 5 years ago

    For the sake of American Justice how can Congress let this happen to the people of Washignton D.C.? It is criminal that they are not allowed a voice in Congress and the right to be represented in Congress. Surely some brave senators and HR reps will quickly take this up once again and reintroduce it as emergency legislation for these Americans. Why isn't this travesty all over the newspapers?

  • Lost In The Shuffle 5 years ago

    FYI:Congress has no right to grant voting rights to D.C.The United States Constitution grants congressional voting representation to the states,which the District is not.The District is a federal territory ultimately under the complete authority of Congress.The lack of voting representation in Congress for residents of the U.S. capital has been an issue since the foundation of the federal district.Numerous proposals have been introduced to change this situation including legislation and constitutional amendments to grant D.C. residents voting representation, returning the District to the state of Maryland and making the District of Columbia into a new state.All proposals have been met with political or constitutional challenges; therefore,there has been no change in the District's representation in the Congress.So now unconstitutional legislation has been dropped in order to keep other unconstitutional anti Second Amendment laws in place. Truly,the inmates are now running the asylum.

  • citizenw 5 years ago

    So the taxpayers of the District of Columbia can’t have representation but can have guns forced on them against their will. Senators McCain and Tester should heed the words of their colleague, the late Arthur Capper, five-term Republican senator from Kansas and twice that state’s governor:
    "If anything ever was worth fighting for it is national representation for the District of Columbia. And I am confident that finally your campaign will be victorious, as it well deserves to be. In my State, if its 2,000,000 inhabitants were told that they could have no voice in the Government which they are taxed to support, I know what would quickly happen. An army would be organized, and it would march across the plains to the Capital of the country and enforce its rights. Of course, I do not recommend for you an appeal to arms. But you must all be aggressive to secure for yourselves that which is rightfully yours.”

    – U.S. Senator Arthur Capper (1938 speech to Columbia Historical Society)

  • Catfish 5 years ago

    Heller get a gun yet?

  • theaton 5 years ago

    The people of DC don't have a right to voting representation in Congress. Maybe people should read the Constitution of the United States before saying such things. If people want voting representation in Congress they need to live in a State Also, since our Constitution is amendable, they could propose, pass and ratify an amendment giving them voting representation.

  • Richard 5 years ago

    It is easy for DC residents to get the ability to vote, just MOVE to a STATE. It really is that easy. There are two of them right next door and three more within a few hours drive.
    That way, they would also regain their 2nd Amendment rights to keep and bear arms.

  • HerbM 5 years ago

    DC should simply be returned to Maryland, as the south side of the Potomac was returned to Virginia. The Feds keep the land they are using (whether it is the Capitol or the Pentagon) and the PEOPLE of DC live in Maryland, voting for a Congress member and for the Maryland Senate.

    If DC wants to vote, it has to be part of a REAL STATE.

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