Democrats Scramble to Block Thune Gun Amendment
Updated 2:36 p.m.
By Shailagh Murray
Senate Democrats are scrambling to produce 40 votes -- or a mere two-thirds of their caucus -- to defeat a GOP-led push to override state gun laws.
Republicans have twice this year scored significant pro-gun victories with substantial moderate Democratic support. The minority party lured away a whopping 27 swing-state Democrats to support looser rules on guns in national parks. And a similar coalition has stalled the District of Columbia's quest for House voting representation, by adding language to the Senate version to ease D.C. firearm restrictions.
The latest measure, offered by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), has far greater reach. Offered today as an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill, it would allow individuals to carry concealed firearms across state lines if they "have a valid permit or if, under their state of residence, they are entitled to do so," Thune explained in a statement.
Thune and his allies contend that by overriding stricter state laws that limit the transport of firearms, the Thune measure would help to lower crime. "Since criminals are unable to tell who is and who is not carrying a firearm just by looking at a potential victim, they are less likely to commit crimes when they fear that they may come in direct contact with an individual who is armed," the statement said.
But Democrats, especially those who represent big cities, were aghast at the sweep of the amendment and are rallying mayors and governors to help win back earlier Democratic defectors. "This amendment is a bridge too far, and could endanger the safety of millions of Americans," Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.
Schumer, who has pledged the filibuster the amendment, said it represented a breach of state rights. "Each state has carefully crafted its concealed-carry laws in the way that makes the most sense to protect its citizens. Clearly, large, urban areas merit a different standard than rural areas. To gut the ability of local police and sheriffs to determine who should be able to carry a concealed weapon makes no sense. It could reverse the dramatic success we've had in reducing crime in most all parts of America," Schumer said.
The National Rifle Association called the Thune amendment "important and timely pro-gun reform" and urged its members to lobby lawmakers to support it, when it comes to a vote later this week. "The right to self-defense does not end at state lines," the NRA statement asserted.
Schumer and his Senate allies, including Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), are seeking to convince new Democratic senators, many from Western states where the Second Amendment is sacrosanct, that this measure is primarily a political taunt. Two key targets: Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, both freshman Democratic senators from Colorado who voted with Republicans on the national parks measure.
Another target is Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who voted with Republicans on the national parks provision, but has since switched his allegiance to the Democratic Party and faces a primary challenge in his 2010 re-election bid. Among the 450 mayors around the country who are seeking to defeat the Thune measure are 106 Democratic mayors from Pennsylvania.
Also, families and survivors of victims in the Virginia Tech shootings will run a full-page ad in Monday's Richmond Times-Dispatch calling on Sens. Jim Webb and Mark Warner to vote against the amendment. Both lawmakers are counted in the party's pro-gun camp.
The Thune amendment is cosponsored by Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), another Democrat who has voted consistently with the N.R.A.
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