Concealed-weapons amendment shot down

Senate Democrats on Wednesday banded together to defeat — barely — a Republican proposal to allow concealed weapons to be carried across state lines.

Voting 58-39, the chamber beat back an amendment by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a potential presidential hopeful who has taken on a growing role among Senate Republicans, that would have permitted weapons to be transferred from state to state.

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Under a previous agreement between the two parties, the amendment needed 60 votes to pass.

The thin margin capped a furious whipping effort by Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who were seen talking closely with wavering Democrats on the floor right up until the vote.

Schumer, who led the effort to kill the amendment, issued a statement saying its defeat means "lives have been saved."

"The passage of this amendment would have done more to threaten the safety of New Yorkers than anything since the repeal of the assault-weapons ban," Schumer said. "If this had passed, it would have created havoc for law enforcement and endangered the safety of millions of New Yorkers. We will remain vigilant to prevent any legislation like this from passing in the future.”

As he vowed on Tuesday, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), a longtime gun-rights supporter, voted for the amendment. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), whose reelection campaign is likely to be dominated by gun-control issues, voted against the amendment.

Nineteen other Democrats crossed over to support the amendment: Max Baucus of Montana, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Bob Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Jon Tester of Montana, Tom Udall of New Mexico, Mark Udall of Colorado and Mark Warner and Jim Webb of Virginia.

Two Republicans crossed over to vote against the amendment: Richard Lugar of Indiana and George Voinovich of Ohio.

Lugar's office issued a statement saying his vote represents his belief that "state and local officials should be afforded the ability to determine proper concealed-carry gun laws and regulations that protect the safety of their communities. This is consistent with his views since he was mayor of Indianapolis."

"Sen. Voinovich believes concealed carry is a state issue and states are already working among themselves to expand recognition of concealed carry permit holders," the Ohio senator's office said in a statement. "For example, Ohio has had a conceal carry law since 2004 and has reciprocity with up to 25 other states. Because conceal carry rights are already protected at the state level, Sen. Voinovich sees no need for federal legislation at this time."

Missing the vote were Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who is undergoing ankle surgery, Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), who only returned to the Senate on Tuesday after a long hospitalization, and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who is battling brain cancer.

The bill would have allowed citizens with a concealed-weapons permit in one state to transfer that permit to other states. Thune described it repeatedly as a “common-sense” idea and said that permit-holders would still have to follow all laws of all states concerning firearms.

Thune was opposed on the Senate floor by Durbin, whose state would not have been affected. Illinois and Wisconsin are the only two states that do not issue or allow concealed-weapons permits.

The vote was a rare defeat for the National Rifle Association, which was “scoring” the amendment as a key vote in its ratings of legislators. In a letter distributed to Congress on Tuesday, the NRA described the amendment as a way to push back against an increasingly hostile atmosphere for gun owners among state and local governments.

“It is now time for Congress to acknowledge these changes in states law [sic] and recognize that the right to self-defense does not end at state lines,” the NRA wrote. “The Thune-Vitter amendment represents a giant step forward in the protection of our basic right to self-defense.”

It was also a rare defeat for Thune, who this summer became GOP Policy chairman — the fourth-ranking position in Senate Republican leadership — after Sen. John Ensign’s (R-Nev.) resignation from the post. Thune has also been an emerging voice on the Employee Free Choice Act and has started a website opposing Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.

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One less-noticed aspect of Wednesday's vote: The influence of a coalition of U.S. mayors who worked hard against the amendment. Mayors Against Illegal Guns, co-chaired by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, lobbied senators far more intensely than other recent gun votes in the Senate. Lindsay Ellenbogen, a spokesman for Bloomberg, said the group "got out there and got our voice heard."

"This was an amendment that had a future, and it would been a problem," Ellenbogen said. "We had to stop it. This is a real win for the nation's mayors. I would say we helped stem the tide."

Bloomberg's group paid for advertising, sent letters and made a flurry of calls, especially targeting Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and Voinovich, both of whom voted against the bill. The coalition even funded an ad in Voinovich's hometown newspaper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, that ran Wednesday morning.

Bloomberg called the amendment "an intrusive and destructive bill" whose defeat is "a major victory for the right of states to set their own public safety laws and for the bi-partisan coalition of Mayors Against Illegal Guns."

"The vast majority of states have set minimum requirements for obtaining a permit to carry a concealed gun, and Congress should respect those laws instead of trying to usurp them," he said. "This victory allows our cities to continue our effective strategies for driving down crime and keeping illegal guns off our streets.”

The Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence, the country's foremost gun-control group, issued a statement praising the vote. Campaign President Paul Helmke called Thune's amendment "a dangerous proposal that would have undermined public safety and the safety of our police officers," and credited Durbin, Schumer, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) for its defeat.

"This proposal would have let people from states with the weakest gun laws in the nation carry hidden, loaded weapons in states with much stronger gun law," Helmke said. "It was a profoundly bad idea. I am hopeful that our Congress will now start addressing proactive measures to reduce gun violence in this country by doing things like requiring background checks for all gun sales, particularly at gun shows.  We make it too easy for dangerous people to get dangerous weapons in America."

The NRA took a sharply different strategy with its post-mortem press release, simply noting that a bipartisan majority of the Senate approved the amendment and singling out Thune, David Vitter (R-La.) and Webb for supporting it.
 
“While we are disappointed that the 60 vote procedural hurdle was not met, the vote shows that a bipartisan majority agrees with the NRA,” said NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris W. Cox. “The efforts of these senators were not in vain, as the NRA will continue to work tirelessly to ensure this important legislation finds the right avenue to come before Congress once again.”

This story was updated at 2:00 p.m.

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