WASHINGTON-Republicans narrowly lost a gun battle in the Senate Wednesday, falling two votes short of attaching a concealed weapons carry amendment to a must-pass defense-spending bill. In the 58-39 vote, just short of the 60 votes needed to pass, two GOP senators voted against the measure, while Democratic leaders succeeded in holding on to enough of their colleagues' no votes on the proposal.
The NRA-endorsed amendment would have allowed citizens who have concealed carry permits in their home state to carry concealed firearms into other states that grant concealed carry permits. The reciprocity privilege would ultimately have been at the mercy of the respective states, which have varying gun laws.
Last week, Democrats successfully attached an expansive hate-crimes amendment onto the defense bill during a late-night vote, extending current federal protections to cover those physically attacked because of their gender, sexual orientation, or disability. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., following their lead, sought to get his concealed weapons carry amendment onto the defense bill to ensure its later passage.
Thune argued that his amendment was a good follow-up to the hate-crimes discussion, since potential hate-crimes victims should be able to defend themselves. "My legislation enables citizens to protect themselves, while respecting individual state firearms laws," he said.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who criticized the Democrats' hate-crimes amendment and accused them of "playing games" with the critical 2010 military defense authorization bill, voted for Thune's amendment.
Democrats called Thune's amendment an outright violation of states' rights and perhaps the most dangerous piece of gun legislation since the repeal of the assault weapons ban.
On the Senate floor before the vote, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said that the amendment would enable gunrunners to skip across states lines, purchase guns, then bring them concealed into states that originally did not allow them. "It directly threatens the safety of millions of New Yorkers," he said.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., pointed out that it is ironic that Democrats argued on behalf of states' rights, considering that 95 percent of their recent legislation has stepped all over states' rights. "The arguments ring hollow," he said.
Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., voted for the amendment, saying that some Democrats misrepresented the realities. He added that the amendment has protections in it that would prevent gang members or felons from using the privileges. "If you read the amendment," Webb said, "it states that a person who is not prohibited by federal law from owning a firearm may be granted reciprocity."
Republicans argued that concealed weapons holders are not a threat to public safety, but an essential part of it.
"Personal protection should not end at a state line," said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. "The Thune amendment protects and enhances the Second Amendment rights of Americans who carry and responsibly own a weapon."
Republican Sens. George Voinovich of Ohio and Dick Lugar of Indiana voted against the amendment, while 19 Democrats, mostly in Southern and Midwestern states, crossed over to support it.