WASHINGTON, DC – House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (MD) spoke on the House Floor tonight in support of the National Capital Security and Safety Act as originally introduced, and expressed opposition to the substitute amendment offered by Representative Childers. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Two hundred and twenty years ago, before this Capitol had been imagined, and when this city was a swamp, our Founders were asking a question we still hear echoed in the District to this day: How could they establish a federal city, cut it out from its home state, and put it under the rule of Congress without violating the principles they had just fought a war to secure? Government comes from the consent of the governed—but who, in any state, could be found to consent to an arrangement like that?
“In the 43rd Federalist Paper, published in 1788, James Madison answered that our authority over the District would be legitimate only if some basic guarantees were in place. The government 'will no doubt provide…for the rights and the consent of the citizens inhabiting it.' The inhabitants 'will have had their voice in the election of the government which is to exercise authority over them.' And 'a municipal legislature for local purposes, derived from their own suffrages, will of course be allowed them.'
“Listen to the confidence with which Madison wrote. ‘No doubt’ we will give the people of the District their fair say. ‘Of course’ they will be citizens, not subjects.
“But I think his confidence would be shaken if he could hear this debate, if he could see what a Congressionally-imposed gun policy would do to the District’s right to govern itself. I will leave the argument over gun rights and gun control to other Members. Whatever conclusion this House comes to, we are really confronted with a much more fundamental question: Do we impose that decision on those who have had no say in it? Or do we pass the Norton bill as introduced, and require the people of the District of Columbia to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision through local legislation?
“Think of the conditions Madison laid out to legitimize our authority over the District. If Congress imposes a gun policy on the people of DC, are we meeting any of those conditions?
“Are we providing for their ‘rights and consent’? No. They do not have the right to consent to anything that goes on here.
“Do they have a ‘voice in the election of the government which is to exercise authority over them’? No. Where is their equal vote in this Congress?
“Are they allowed ‘a municipal legislature for local purposes’? Well, the City Council still meets. But on this supremely local and sensitive issue, we are preparing to silence it.
“The principle of federalism, which so many of my colleagues profess, says that local problems are best tackled locally. The closer you get to the problem, the more direct knowledge and direct accountability you find. And while we in Congress may be close physically, we are still a world away from the gun violence the DC City Council is struggling to confront, all while upholding the Court’s decision.
“I ask my colleagues candidly: Who is better equipped to make these difficult decisions? Congress? Or the people of this city?
“I don’t know how you can call yourself a federalist and answer ‘Congress.’ A conservative columnist put it well a few years ago: 'You can’t favor federalism for only…ideas you like.'
“So the ultimate issue here is not guns. It is a question of who here is prepared to be consistent in their principles. And of who here is prepared to respect the District’s right of self-government, which our Founders took for granted.
“I urge my colleagues to vote down the amendment and to support this bill, unamended.”