Senate Dems shoot down Thune’s gun amendment

Senate Democrats banded enough votes together Wednesday 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. Under a previous agreement between the two parties, the amendment needed 60 votes to pass.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and 18 other Democrats, mostly from the West and Midwest, voted for Thune’s amendment.

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 The thin margin capped a furious whipping effort by Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. 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.

The Democrats who supported Thune’s amendment were: Max Baucus (Mont.), Evan Bayh  (Ind.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Bob Casey Jr. (Pa.), Kent Conrad (N.D.), Byron Dorgan (N.D.), Russ Feingold (Wis.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Tim Johnson (S.D.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Tom Udall (N.M.), Mark Udall (Colo.), Mark Warner (Va.) and Jim Webb (Va.).

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

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 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.

After the vote, the NRA in a release noted that a bipartisan majority of the Senate approved the amendment.

“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.”

The vote was also a slight 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.

One lesser-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 in other recent gun votes in the Senate. Lindsay Ellenbogen, a spokesman for Bloomberg, said the group “got out there and got our voice heard.”

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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.”

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.

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