Concealed guns law rejected in Senate vote

Thursday, July 23, 2009

WASHINGTON -- The Senate on Wednesday rejected letting people carry hidden guns in 48 states if they have a concealed weapon permit in any one of them, a rare victory for gun control advocates in a Democratic-controlled Congress that has been friendly to the gun lobby.

Opponents said it would force states with tough concealed weapon permit restrictions to let in gun carriers from states that give permits to convicted criminals, minors and people with no firearms training.

"It's extremely dangerous policy," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., noting that her state demands fingerprinting, federal background checks, a course of training and verification by a local sheriff before issuing a permit to carry a concealed gun.

A majority of the Senate, in a 58-39 vote, supported the measure, which would require most states to honor the concealed weapons permits issued by other states. But the tally was two votes short of the 60 votes needed to add the measure as an amendment to a defense bill.

Twenty Democrats, mainly from western or rural states, joined all but two Republicans in voting for the measure, which was promoted by the National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups. They included Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and both Democratic senators from Colorado, Arkansas, Montana, North Dakota and Virginia.

There were also notable defections. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., who voted to strip the District of Columbia of its gun control laws last February, opposed the concealed weapon measure. Specter was a Republican at the time of the previous vote.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, a pro-gun rights Democrat who faces a primary challenge next year in a state with strong gun control sentiments, also opposed it. "I strongly believe that the gun laws that are right for New York are not necessarily right for South Dakota, and vice versa," she said.

NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre told The Associated Press that, despite the defeat, the vote showed that "we have the wind to our back." He called the vote "one more step down the road to allowing all Americans the full measure of Second Amendment protection."

Those who opposed it, LaPierre warned, "will see it reflected in support from their constituents."

The chief sponsor of the measure, South Dakota Republican John Thune, said it would reduce crime by allowing law-abiding citizens such as truck drivers to protect themselves as they travel from one state to another.

Opponents cited incidents they said proved the opposite.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., mentioned a Washington state man given a concealed-weapons permit despite a history of drug addiction and schizophrenia who in 2008 shot and wounded three people at a public festival. In 2007 a Cincinnati woman with a permit to carry a concealed weapon shot and killed a panhandler who asked her for 25 cents at a gas station, he said.

The Violence Policy Center, a gun control advocacy group, released a study this week finding that concealed handgun permit holders killed at least seven police officers and 44 private citizens during the two-year period ending in April.

"The hard facts are that concealed handgun permit holders do not prevent mass shootings, they perpetrate them," said Kristen Rand, the center's legislative director.

Concealed weapons are allowed in 48 states. Alaska and Vermont allow any gun owner to carry a concealed gun. Wisconsin and Illinois don't allow them at all, except for law enforcement officers. The other 46 states require permits to carry a concealed gun.

Durbin noted that 11 states and the District of Columbia have laws that ban reciprocity with other states, laws that would be overridden by the Thune amendment.

Thune's proposal would extend reciprocity to states that have carry laws, with the condition that visitors to another state follow the laws of that state, such as restrictions on concealed weapons in bars or restaurants. He stressed that it would not set up a national permit standard.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said his state, with its more stringent requirements for a concealed weapon, should not have to accept gun carriers from states with few or no restrictions.

Thune responded that "Central Park will be a much safer place" if someone from South Dakota could carry a gun in the New York City park.

Feinstein said California, the nation's most populous state, has issued about 40,000 concealed gun permits, while Florida has issued 580,000 and Georgia 300,000. Thune said about 5 million people nationwide have concealed weapons permits.

Last February the Senate voted 62-36 to eliminate most of the District of Columbia's strict gun control laws. In May, President Barack Obama signed into law a consumer credit card act that also restored the rights of people to carry loaded weapons in national parks. Sixty-seven senators voted for that gun amendment.

Congress has also ignored requests from Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder that it revive a ban on military-style weapons that expired in 2004.

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