Statement from Senator Feinstein on Passage of Amendment to Repeal DC’s Gun-Ownership Restrictions
- Senator Feinstein blasts amendment as “reckless,” urged her colleagues to vote against it -
Feb 26 2009
Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), indicated that she plans to introduce legislation to reinstate a federal ban on assault weapons after the U.S. Senate voted on Thursday to repeal gun ownership restrictions in Washington, D.C.
An amendment to the D.C. Voting Rights Act repeals Washington, D.C.’s ban on semi-automatic weapons, including assault weapons, as well as federal gun anti-trafficking laws. The amendment, offered by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), passed by a vote of 62 to 36.
During remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Senator Feinstein blasted the amendment, calling it “irresponsible.” She added: “It will endanger the citizens of the District, the Government employees who work here, our elected officials, and those who visit this great American Capitol.”
The amendment would undermine federal anti-trafficking laws, repeal Washington D.C.’s ban on dangerous military-style weapons, allow teenagers to possess semiautomatic assault rifles, and prohibit D.C.’s government from passing laws that could “discourage” gun possession or use by children, felons or other dangerous persons.
“I am prepared to wage the assault weapons battle again and intend to do so. I have been quiet about this because there are many other pressing needs of this Nation. But with the help of the President, the administration, and the people of this great country, we do need to fight back against these kinds of amendments,” said Senator Feinstein, the author of the original assault weapon ban enacted in 1994.
The ban expired in 2004 during the Bush Administration.
Following is the text of Senator Feinstein’s floor remarks:
“I rise today to speak in strong opposition to amendment No. 575 offered by Senator Ensign. This amendment is not the instant amendment that he just spoke about; it is the amendment that essentially would repeal all common-sense gun laws in the District of Columbia.
I believe the amendment is reckless. I believe it is irresponsible. I believe it will lead to more weapons and more violence on the streets of our Nation's Capital. It will endanger the citizens of the District, the Government employees who work here, our elected officials, and those who visit this great American Capitol. And, of course, if successful, it will be the first new step in a march to remove all common-sense gun regulations all over this land.
The Ensign amendment repeals gun laws promoting public safety, including DC laws that the U.S. Supreme Court indicated were permissible under the second amendment in the Heller decision. I strongly disagree with the Supreme Court decision in Heller that the Second Amendment gives individuals a right to possess weapons for private purposes not related to State militias, and that the Constitution does not permit a general ban on handguns in the home. But that is the law. It has been adjudicated. It has gone up to the highest Court, and I am one who believes if we do not like the law, we should try to make changes through the proper legal channels.
However, it is important to note that Heller also stands for the proposition that reasonable, commonsense gun regulations are entirely permissible. As the author of the original assault weapons ban that was enacted in 1994, I know common-sense gun regulations do make our communities safer, while at the same time respecting the rights of sportsmen and others to keep and bear arms.
Just yesterday, the Department of Justice announced the arrest of 52 people in California, Minnesota, and Maryland. In addition to seizing 12,000 kilograms of cocaine and more than 16,000 pounds of marijuana, the DEA also seized 169 illegal firearms from members of the Sinaloa Cartel.
Where did they get those guns? It would be interesting to find out because this cartel is one of several that law enforcement believes is responsible for kidnappings and murders within the United States in addition to engaging in violent gun crimes.
In talking about the Sinaloa Cartel yesterday, Attorney General Holder noted that reinstituting the assault weapons ban would benefit the United States, as well as help stop the flood of weapons being sent from the United States to Mexico for use by drug cartels to cause violence on both sides of the border.
I am prepared to wage the assault weapons battle again and intend to do so. I have been quiet about this because there are many pressing needs of this Nation. But with the help of the President, the administration, and the people of this great country, we do need to fight back against these kinds of amendments.
Justice Scalia wrote in the majority opinion on the Heller case that a wide variety of gun laws are "presumptively lawful," including the laws "forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places" and regulations governing "the conditions and qualifications of the commercial sale of arms."
I cannot think of any place more sensitive than the District of Columbia. Even bans on "dangerous and unusual weapons" are completely appropriate under the Heller decision. So it is interesting to me that you have this decision, and then you have the Senate moving even to obliterate what is allowable under the decision.
Senator Ensign's amendment completely ignores Heller’s language and takes the approach that all guns for all people at all times is called for by Heller. It is not.
We have all seen the tragic consequences of gun violence: the massacre of students at Virginia Tech University in 2007, the murders at Columbine High School in Colorado, the North Hollywood shootout where bank robbers carrying automatic weapons and shooting armor-piercing bullets shot 10 Los Angeles Police Department SWAT officers and seven civilians before being stopped.
We have seen criminal street gangs able to buy weapons at gun shows and out of the back seats or the trunks of automobiles. We have seen their bullets kill hundreds, if not thousands of people across this great land -- men, women, and children.
I remember one case in the San Francisco Bay area not long ago where a youngster taking a piano lesson in a home had a bullet from a gang member pierce the wall of the home, cut his spine, and today he is a paraplegic. It is unbelievable for me to think of the ease with which people can buy weapons.
As Senator Schumer said, if this amendment becomes law, even if you cannot see, even if you cannot pass a sight test, you can have access to firearms. That is not what this Nation should encourage. Those incidents and the gun violence that occurs every day across this country show us that we should be doing more, not less, to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill and not give them unfettered access to firearms.
It is worth noting just how far this amendment goes in repealing DC law and just how unsafe it will make the streets of this Capitol. Here is what it would do: It would repeal DC's ban on semiautomatic weapons, including assault weapons.
If this amendment becomes law, military-style assault weapons with high-capacity magazines will be allowed to be stockpiled in homes and businesses in the District, even near Federal buildings such as the White House and the Capitol. Even the .50 caliber sniper rifle, with a range of over 1 mile, will be allowed in DC under this amendment. This is a weapon capable of firing rounds that can penetrate concrete and armor plating. And at least one model of the .50 caliber sniper rifle is easily concealed and transported. One gun manufacturer describes this model as a "lightweight and tactical" weapon and capable of being collapsed and carried in "a very small inconspicuous package."
Is this what we want to do? There is simply no good reason anyone needs semiautomatic, military-style assault weapons in an urban community. It is unfathomable to me that the same high-powered sniper rifle used by our Armed Forces will be permitted in the Nation's Capitol. Yet this is exactly what the amendment would allow if passed by the Senate.
Next, the amendment would repeal existing Federal anti-gun trafficking laws. For years, Federal law has banned gun dealers from selling handguns directly to out-of-State buyers who are not licensed firearms dealers. This has helped substantially in the fight against illegal interstate gun trafficking, and it has prevented criminals from traveling to other States to buy guns.
Senator Ensign's amendment repeals this longstanding Federal law and allows DC residents to cross State lines to buy handguns in neighboring States. Illegal gun traffickers will be able to easily obtain large quantities of firearms outside of DC and then distribute those guns to criminals in DC and in surrounding States.
And no one should be so naive as to say that this amendment will not to this. It will. The amendment repeals DC law restricting the ability of dangerous and unqualified people to obtain guns. The amendment also repeals many of the gun regulations that the Supreme Court said were completely appropriate after Heller.
So all of those who will vote for this amendment should not do so thinking they are just complying with the Heller decision. This is part of a march forward by gun lobby interests in this country to begin to remove all common-sense regulations, and no one should think it is anything else.
This would repeal the DC prohibition on persons under the age of 21 from possessing firearms, and it repeals all age limits for the possession of long guns, including assault weapons.
Do we really want that? I think of the story of an 11-year-old who had a reduced barreled shotgun and just recently killed somebody with it. Is this what we want to see all over this country, the ability of virtually anyone to obtain a firearm regardless of their age? I don't think so.
The amendment even repeals the D.C. law prohibiting gun possession by people who have poor vision. I heard Senator Schumer speak about this yesterday afternoon. Unbelievably, under this amendment, the District would be barred from having any vision requirement for gun use, even if someone is blind. Is this the kind of public policy we want to make for our Nation? Is this how co-opted this body is to the National Rifle Association and others? I hope not.
One of the reasons we have 6-year terms is to allow us to make difficult decisions. There is no higher charge than protecting our public safety. We should protect individuals. The way we protect individuals is by enacting public policy that is prudent, reasonable, and subject to common sense. This amendment does none of the above.
I ask my colleagues to think carefully about this amendment, because if it succeeds, trust me, the march for similar legislation will be on. I introduced the assault weapons legislation. I survived. I had an election in 1994, just after I had introduced it. I survived. The people of my State want common-sense gun control. They don't want local jurisdictions stripped of any ability to enact prudent regulation.
The Presiding Officer is in the chair. The husband of one of her colleagues, going home on the Long Island train, was shot and killed by someone who never should have had a weapon. How many of these incidents do we have to have? How many businesses employing people who are mentally ill have to suffer when they have a grudge against an employee, and kill 6, 7, 8, 9, or 10 people? How many schools do we have to have where aggrieved students go out and acquire the most powerful weapons and come into cafeterias, libraries, or classrooms and mow down students? A vote for this amendment, any way we look at it, makes this easier to happen.
I believe passionately about this. I will never forget, many years ago, before I was mayor, walking into the robbery of a corner grocery store. When people die of gunshot wounds, it is not the way it is on television or in the movies. I saw brain matter all over the walls. I saw the husband, a proprietor, the wife, a proprietor. This individual who came in even shot the dog. People are capable of terrible criminality. We should not encourage that criminality by making their access to weapons so very easy.
As I say, this is the first step in a march to see that there is no ability to enact prudent gun regulation throughout the United States.
I ask every colleague, before they vote for this, to think about the people they represent and whether society is going to be safer because of their vote. How deep have we sunk in catering to these interests? For shame.
The amendment before the Senate repeals all firearm registration requirements in the District, making it even more difficult for law enforcement to trace guns used in crimes and track down the registered owner. The amendment repeals all existing safe-storage laws and prohibits the District from enacting any additional safe-storage laws.
After the Heller decision, the District passed emergency legislation to allow guns to be unlocked for self-defense, but requiring that they otherwise be kept locked to keep guns out of the hands of children and criminals. We all ought to want that.
The Ensign amendment repeals even this modest limitation and prevents the District of Columbia City Council from enacting any law that discourages -- whatever that means -- gun ownership or requiring the safe storage of firearms. How can we, in the Capitol of the United States where we have had so many tragic events, possibly do this? This is simply ridiculous and goes well beyond the Supreme Court's ruling in Heller.
Think about what this means. Consider that every major gun manufacturer recommends that guns be kept unloaded, locked, and kept in a safe place. Under this amendment, the District could not enact any legislation requiring that guns be stored in a safe place, even in homes with children. How can anyone believe this broad-brush amendment is the right thing to do? How can any of us believe it provides protection for the people we represent?
Let me make one other point. The American people clearly do not agree with this amendment. Last fall, when a virtually identical bill was being considered in the House of Representatives, a national poll found that 69 percent of Americans opposed Congress passing a law to eliminate the District's gun laws -- 69 percent. That is about as good as we get on any controversial issue. Additionally, 60 percent of Americans believe Washington will become less safe if Congress takes this step.
Is this what we want? Do we want the Capitol of the United States to become less safe? I don't think so. Today, if this amendment passes in the Senate, it will be directly against the wishes of the American people. It will not pass because it is good public policy – it will only be passed to placate the National Rifle Association. I say for shame.
As a former mayor who saw firsthand what happens when guns fall into the hands of criminals, juveniles, and the mentally ill, I believe this amendment places the families of the District of Columbia in great jeopardy. The amendment puts innocent lives at stake. It is an affront to the public safety of the District. It is an affront to local home rule. This isn't just a bad amendment; it is a very dangerous one. I very strongly urge Senators to join me in opposing it.
I yield the floor.”