WASHINGTON — In the year’s first high-profile legislative setback for the gun lobby, the U.S. Senate on Wednesday shot down legislation that would have scrapped state and local laws dictating who can carry concealed firearms.
The vote marks a rare victory for gun reformers, including President Obama, who have had little success battling the powerful National Rifle Association this year despite commanding Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), would have forced states to honor concealed weapon permits issued by other states, even in cases when local laws would prohibit the visitor from carrying firearms. Hardly a partisan issue, the measure highlighted the chasm between lawmakers from the less populous rural regions, where gun rights are sacrosanct, and those representing the more urban coastal states, where higher population densities and crime rates have led local governments to enact stricter limits on concealed-carry eligibility.
The count in the Senate was 58 to 39 — two votes shy of the 60 needed to defeat the filibuster led by liberal Democrats. Nineteen Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), joined almost every Republican in supporting the bill. Sens. George Voinovich (Ohio) and Richard Lugar (Ind.) were the only Republicans to oppose the measure.
Under Thune’s proposal, gun owners granted the right to carry concealed weapons publicly in their home state would retain that right when traveling across state lines, provided that they comply with the other concealed-carry laws of the host state, such as restrictions on where guns can be carried. The rule would not have applied in Illinois, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia, the only jurisdictions that prohibit concealed carry altogether. The bill, Thune said on the Senate floor before the vote, would “allow law-abiding people to protect themselves from criminals when they travel across state lines.”
In a statement issued after the vote, Colorado Sen. Mark Udall said much of the heat around the measure didn’t really apply to his constituents. He defended his vote in favor of the amendment.
“Since 2003, Colorado has had a relatively relaxed reciprocity statute recognizing the conceal-carry permits of 27 other states. Our experience over the last six years does not lead me to conclude that passage of this amendment would raise the risk of unlawful gun smuggling or other criminal acts.”
In their successful opposition push, most Democrats maintained that the proposal would deny the rights of states and municipalities to set their own concealed-carry eligibility requirements based on local conditions. New York City, for example, with a population of 8.4 million, has different concerns about who can carry guns than the state of Vermont, with a population of 621,000, opponents argued. Indeed, every gun owner in Vermont has the automatic right to carry their firearm in public, while New York statutes empower law enforcers to deny concealed-carry permits on a discretionary basis. Yet under the Thune bill, those eligible to conceal firearms in the Green Mountain State could also carry them in Manhattan.
Of importance, the Thune bill would not have overridden state laws dictating how or where gun owners could carry weapons, but only who. Arizona, for example, just passed a state law allowing concealed loaded weapons in bars. The Thune bill, however, wouldn’t allow Arizona residents to carry their guns into bars in states where the practice is prohibited.
Supporters of the bill disputed claims that the measure would empower criminals. “Of all the people we need to worry about committing gun crimes and violence unlawfully, the people with a conceal-carry permit are probably the last on the list,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
Ironically, the Thune amendment put many state-rights defenders in the odd position of stealing the powers of local governments to regulate themselves. Republicans, generally known for insulating states from the reach of Washington, took the opposite tack in Wednesday’s vote, effectively voting to eliminate the rights of states to decide what’s best for their own residents on the issue of gun reform. “It’s an attack on states rights by people who usually support states rights,” said Daniel Vice, senior attorney with the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
The NRA did not return calls for comment. But the group shot out a statement immediately after the vote lauding the 58 lawmakers who supported the bill, even as that number fell two members shy of passing the bill. “The vote shows that a bipartisan majority agrees with the NRA,” said NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris W. Cox.
Read the full story at The Washington Independent, The Colorado Independent’s sister site in D.C.