Sen. Jim Webb turned an awkward episode — the arrest of one of his aides for carrying a gun into one of the Senate office buildings — into a political opportunity Tuesday, giving a spirited defense of his and other Americans’ right to carry firearms to defend themselves.
While Webb, D-Va., did not specifically say he’d support a change in the law in the District of Columbia that bans most residents and visitors from carrying or even possessing guns, he did defend the right of people to use guns in self-defense.
“I’m a strong supporter of the Second Amendment; I have had a permit to carry a weapon in Virginia for a long time; I believe that it’s important; it’s important to me personally and to a lot of people in the situation that I’m in to be able to defend myself and my family,” he said.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, he said, “it’s a more dangerous time” for those serving in government. “I’m not going to comment with great specificity about how I defend myself, but I do feel I have that right,” he added.
Webb, a Marine veteran of the Vietnam War and former secretary of the Navy, said members of Congress did not have the high level of protection that the president and executive branch officials have. As a result, he said, “We are required to defend ourselves.”
Not specific on how he defends himself
When a reporter asked Webb if he considered himself “above Washington D.C.’s gun law,” the Virginian replied that he would not comment on “how I provide for my own security.”
When asked if he thought the D.C. law should be changed to allow law-abiding people in Washington to carry weapons, Webb stressed his support for the Second Amendment and added, “I believe the Virginia law is a fair law. I believe that wherever you see laws that allow people to carry (weapons), generally the violence goes down.”
Webb, who won by only four-tenths of one percent last November over Sen. George Allen, has made a point of differing with liberal Democrats on the gun issue.
Webb argued in his 2004 book “Born Fighting” that 2000 Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore’s “position on gun control cost him the election, not in Florida but in the Scots-Irish redoubts of Tennessee and West Virginia, both of which through history and logic should have been slam-dunk electoral votes in his favor.”
Virginia law allows citizens to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon, as long as they are not felons nor have been convicted of a violent misdemeanor.
Carrying loaded pistol
Webb aide Phillip Thompson was arraigned Tuesday for violating D.C. law. “He completely inadvertently took the weapon into the Senate yesterday,” Webb said.
Capitol police said that Thompson had a loaded pistol with two additional fully loaded magazines when he entered the Russell Senate Office building Monday.
He was charged with carrying a pistol without a license and having an unregistered firearm and unregistered ammunition.
The arrest came only a few days after the gun issue forced Democratic leaders were to avert a House vote on giving the District of Columbia a voting representative in the House. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, used a parliamentary tactic to try to force a vote on his proposal to overturn the D.C. gun ban.
Rather than allow that vote, Democratic leaders temporarily shunted aside the entire D.C. representation bill. They have pledged to bring the legislation back after the Easter recess, and the Republican sponsor of the bill, Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, said Tuesday that Democratic leaders could find a parliamentary method of ruling Smith’s gun measure non-germane.
Republican amused at Webb comments
Smiling with amusement at Webb’s defense of gun owners’ rights, Smith jokingly wondered if Webb would send a letter to House Democrats urging them to support his effort to scrap the district’s gun ban.
“We’ve heard for so long how strong the Democrats felt about voting rights for D.C. residents, and yet they were willing to kill the bill rather than allow D.C. residents to have firearms to protect themselves against criminals,” Smith said.
He supports retro-ceding most D.C. territory back to Maryland and thus giving all people now residing in the district representation by Maryland’s members of the House.
Last week when Smith unveiled his gun provisions, D.C. delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton denounced the move as “disgusting” and said, “All that they got was a nuisance delay, but we will get our bill any day now.”
Some House Democrats would vote for Smith’s gun proposal if it were on the floor. One of them, Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn. said Tuesday, “I just don’t believe gun control laws work. What we see is that communities where they have strict gun control laws actually have more problems with crime than communities that don’t.”
He said crime in Washington, D.C., itself was evidence of that: “That proves the point."
He added that "people that know how to handle guns, there should be no prohibition against them having a gun.”
Democrat keeps guns in his office
Peterson said his constituents in his mostly rural Minnesota district are aware of the D.C. gun ban. “They ask me questions about what I do with my guns. The answer is they’re in my (Capitol) office because it’s legal,” Peterson said.
Asked how he gets his guns from his residence to his office, Peterson said, “It’s not very far to the Virginia line.”
Federal law allows members of Congress “or their agents” to transport unloaded and securely wrapped firearms to and from the Capitol grounds.
On March 9, a three-judge panel of the federal appeals court in the District of Columbia overturned part of the district’s gun ban. District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty has pledged to fight that ruling, possibly by appealing to the Supreme Court.
While the city moves to petition the full Court of Appeals for rehearing, the gun law remains in effect.