Sherwood's Notebook: Guns, Again

Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie a few days ago introduced a bill to get rid of the federal law establishing “gun-free” zones around public schools. He calls his bill the “Safe Students Act.”

The conservative Republican’s news release was blunt.

“Gun-free school zones are ineffective. They make people less safe by inviting criminals into target-rich, no-risk environments,” Massie said in early January. “Gun-free zones prevent law-abiding citizens from protecting themselves, and create vulnerable populations that are targeted by criminals.”

In December, Rep. Massie announced he had re-launched a Congressional Second Amendment Caucus. Again, he was blunt.

“The recent election results present us with a new opportunity to advance pro-gun legislation and reverse the erosion of the Second Amendment that’s occurred over the last few decades. I look forward to working with the new President and this determined group of conservatives to promote a pro-gun agenda,” Massie stated.

The views of Massie, who represents a largely rural area of Kentucky, are important to us locally because he has sustained an effort to overturn the District of Columbia’s urban gun laws. Massie supports “open carry” on city streets and neighborhoods. In the past, Massie’s efforts have been stymied by the Senate and/or the Obama White House.

But times have changed. Donald Trump will replace Obama in a matter of days, and the House and Senate are firmly in the hands of Republicans. Another assault on D.C. gun laws could come at any time.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton already has fired a defensive shot. She is pointing out the new “security” signs outside entrances to Hill office buildings.

These bright red signs warn visitors “Do not attempt to enter the building with any of the prohibited items listed below.” The first line on the list cites any firearm “regardless of any permit to carry status in any state.” Also banned are replica guns, ammunition, Tasers, explosives, fireworks and “any pointed object,” including daggers or razor knives.

Norton highlights what she and others see as hypocrisy. “It is ironic that the Republican-led Congress, which has relentlessly tried, but failed, to overturn D.C.’s gun safety laws, including its prohibition of guns in D.C. government buildings, has not tried to overturn the federal guns laws that protect Members in the Capitol Complex, but instead is doubling down to ensure Members are protected,” Norton said in a news release. “Many of my Republican colleagues appear to be concerned about their own safety, but not the safety of D.C. residents and visitors, who are protected by D.C.’s local gun safety laws as they travel about the city.”

In the past, Rep. Massie has dismissed allegations of hypocrisy, saying the Capitol Hill buildings are fully protected at entrances, so there’s no need to carry guns inside.

Norton noted that federal law (40 U.S.C. § 5104) prohibits guns in the entire Capitol Complex, both in the buildings and outside them. A separate federal law (18 U.S.C. § 930) also prohibits guns in federally owned or leased buildings, as long as notice of the prohibition is conspicuously posted.

Of course, that leaves open a few questions.

Why is Capitol Hill so protected? Why not let “open carry” be the law of the land? If we can carry guns on the streets, churches and other public places, why not carry them 24/7 inside the halls of Congress? And think how much we taxpayers could save if we took more responsibility for ourselves instead of depending on government and the U.S. Capitol Police to protect us.

If everyone is armed who wants to be, what could go wrong?

■ Local D.C. gun laws. As we noted, the District bans open-carry firearms (at least until the courts or Congress changes the policy). To carry a concealed weapon within the District, you have to have a permit issued by the city. Importantly, there is no reciprocity with other jurisdictions. You may have a license to carry a weapon in Maryland or Virginia or any other state, but that doesn’t give you the same right in D.C.

Several thousand law enforcement officers expected to come to D.C. to aid with crowd control and other security will be temporarily sworn in by D.C. police to allow them to carry weapons.

■ ACLU advice. The local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union plans to put online and distribute a leaflet with advice to protesters and other citizens about their civil rights at a time of heightened security.

“We’re just in the final stages of preparing a leaflet that will be printed up in large numbers,” said Art Spitzer, legal director of the District ACLU office on Connecticut Avenue NW. He said it would include “things that people from out of town might not know” about local Washington and the federal complex here.

For example, the leaflet will note that there are any number of police forces — city police, Secret Service, FBI, U.S. Capitol, Federal Protective Service and so on that may interact with visitors and protesters.

Spitzer said the D.C. police do a far better job of crowd control than in years past, but noted some individuals and protest groups “want to be arrested.”

■ The official 411 on 1/20/2017. Last week the District government and Secret Service held a press conference on plans for the Trump Inaugural and its effect on citizens, businesses and transportation. The city has created a website with most of the information:

Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.

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