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May 10, 2010

D.C. United

Two events during the past month have demonstrated with striking clarity the viewpoint of D.C. residents regarding gun violence and firearm regulation.

The first was the "Second Amendment March," which took place at the Washington Monument on the National Mall on April 19. Organized by Skip Coryell, a gun enthusiast from Michigan, the mission of the rally was “to galvanize the courage and resolve of Americans; to petition our elected officials against establishing anti-gun legislation; and to remind America that the Second Amendment is necessary to maintain our right to self defense.”

Approximately 2,000 individuals from across the country listened to far-right-wing speakers like Gun Owners of America Executive Director Larry Pratt tell them, "We're in a war. The other side knows they are at war, because they started it. They are coming for our freedom, for our money, for our kids, for our property. They are coming for everything because they are a bunch of Socialists." For his part, Skip Coryell opined that his God-given rights were being infringed because he could not carry a fully automatic assault rifle on the National Mall.

Few—if any—residents of the District of the Columbia attended the rally.

Nearly three weeks later on May 5, D.C.’s elected officials, local victims of gun violence, voting rights organizations, and community groups stood together at a press conference to denounce legislation that would dramatically weaken the city’s gun laws. S. 3265/H.R. 5162, the “Second Amendment Enforcement Act,” was recently introduced in Congress by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Jon Tester (D-MT) and Representatives Travis Childers (D-MS) and Mark Souder (R-IN). Drafted by the National Rifle Association (NRA), the legislation would legalize assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines in the nation’s capital; repeal the District's licensing and registration system; allow some convicted substance abusers and violent misdemeanants to purchase and own firearms; roll back important regulations curbing illegal gun trafficking; and prevent the D.C. Council from enacting gun-related legislation in the future.

Speaking at the press conference at city hall were D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty; D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray; and Council Members Phil Mendelson, Michael Brown, David Catania, Marion Barry, Harry Thomas, Jr. and Muriel Bowser. Last month, the council unanimously approved a resolution that stated their opposition to “any [legislation] that would restrict the Council’s authority to legislate laws or regulations that restrict the private ownership or use of firearms or that would repeal major portions of the District’s firearms regulation law.” They were joined at the event by local and national organizations including Reaching Out to Others Together (ROOT), the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, DC for Democracy, DC Vote, Peaceoholics, Inner Thoughts and Safe in the Streetz.

The most powerful testimony, however, came from family members who lost loved ones
to gun violence in the District. This included Nardyne Jefferies, whose 16-year-old daughter Brishell Jones was killed in the March 30 mass shooting in Southeast Washington involving an AK-47; Brishell’s two grandmothers; and Norman Williams, who lost his son Jordan Howe in the March 30 shooting. Williams had a decidedly different take on assault rifles than Skip Coryell. “Those weapons belong in Afghanistan or something,” Williams said. “They don’t belong here.” Nardyne Jefferies agreed, noting the damage such a weapon had done to her daughter.

After the press conference, these gun violence survivors traveled to Capitol Hill to meet with D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. In a statement this week, Del. Norton said, “I am grateful that the victims of last month's massacre are not standing alone, but have been joined by the voting rights coalition and organizations that have always stood up for our right to enact gun safety laws. Together we must expose Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate who profess to be for self-government, and then sponsor bills to take away the self-governing rights of the District of Columbia, even though the federal courts have now found the District's new gun laws to be constitutional."

Mayor Fenty agreed with these sentiments, saying, “Any introduction of a law which would introduce more guns into the streets of Washington, D.C. would be a law that would set us back from a public safety standpoint. Great to see the unity here today. Great to see everybody coming out saying, ‘Let’s have less guns. Let’s continue to reduce crime in Washington, D.C.’”

Kenny Barnes, the founder of ROOT who organized the press conference, was even more effusive. “Incredible, what took place today,” he said. “It was historic, and we’re all united to try to stop violence.”

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