Democrats Defeat Concealed Weapons Amendment

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

By Paul KaneBy the narrowest of margins, the Senate's liberal bloc of Democrats defeated an amendment that would have allowed gun owners to carry their weapons across state lines without regard for stricter laws in many jurisdictions, giving preference to states with looser standards.In a 58-39 vote, supporters of the looser gun law -- including all but two Republicans and almost 20 moderate Democrats -- fell two votes short of the 60 they needed to approve the measure. The amendment, sponsored by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), showed the bitter divisions among a Democratic caucus that now holds 60 seats, many of whom got to the Senate by winning in conservative states as they proudly supported gun rights. It also divided the party's leadership, as Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), campaigning for re-election in 2010, sided with gun rights supporters. His top lieutenants, Sens. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), led the push against the measure.
Even in defeat, the debate demonstrated the continued power of the National Rifle Association and gun rights advocates in Congress, because the Thune amendment was considered the most far reaching federal effort ever proposed to expand laws to allow weapons ownership.Offered as an amendment to the annual defense authorization bill, it would allow people to carry concealed firearms across state lines, provided they "have a valid permit or if, under their state of residence ... are entitled to do so." This means that someone who had a concealed-carry permit for his gun in a state like Vermont -- with some of the loosest gun-control laws in the nation -- could cross over into other states with their guns and not be found guilty of violating those states' tighter gun laws."This carefully tailored amendment will ensure that a state's border is not a limit to an individual's fundamental right and will allow law-abiding individuals to travel without complication throughout the 48 states that already permit some form of conceal and carry," Thune said during Wednesdays' sometimes heated debate.
Big-city mayors, such as New York's Michael Bloomberg, led a furious lobbying effort to try to derail the amendment, along with gun-victims groups, such as the families of students killed in the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech University. Bloomberg, in a letter to Reid, noted that at least 31 states prohibit alcohol abusers from obtaining concealed-carry permits; at least 35 states bar people convicted of certain misdemeanors from becoming gun owners; and at least 31 states require people to complete gun-safety programs before securing a weapons permit. In a rare instance in which they trumpeted states' rights, Democrats noted that 36 states have specific laws regarding these gun permits and include specific lists of which states' permits they will recognize. "The states already have laws. Under the Thune amendment, those laws could be ignored. So if the Thune amendment becomes law, people who are currently prohibited from carrying concealed guns in those 36 states are free to do so. It is absurd that we are considering this," Durbin, the majority whip, said.Democrats, who have traditionally championed gun control as a way to reduce crime, are suffering from their own political success of the past two elections. Schumer served as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for the 2006 and 2008 election cycles, specifically recruiting supporters of the Second Amendment to run in states where gun ownership is common. Going from 45 seats in the fall of 2006 to 60 seats this summer, Democrats now have about 25 senators who are strong supporters of gun rights.During the debate, Schumer offered the theoretical example of a gang member in New York City moving to Vermont and establishing residency there, then buying guns and transporting them back to New York."The reality of that particular situation is the gang members already have their guns.... The people who need this bill are the ones that the gang members might be threatening," countered Sen. James Webb (D-Va.), a supporter of the Second Amendment whose support from Schumer was crucial to his 2006 victory, which gave Democrats their Senate majority. Faced with a difficult re-election battle next year in what is regarded as a pro-gun state, Reid told reporters Tuesday he would support the measure but then refused to explain why.Republicans have already succeeded twice this year in rolling back restrictions on guns with substantial backing from those moderate to conservative Democrats elected in 2006 and 2008. In February, 22 Senate Democrats joined Republicans to stall the District's quest for House voting rights by demanding that the legislation also ease D.C. gun restrictions.
The National Rifle Association called Thune's amendment "important and timely pro-gun reform" and urged a yes vote.


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