Senate Rejects Concealed Weapons Measure

Correction July 22, 2009

In an early version of this story, we reported that Iowa was one of two states that do not issue permits for concealed weapons. That is incorrect. The two states that do not issue permits for concealed weapons are Illinois and Wisconsin.

Senate Democrats stopped Republicans and some centrist Democrats from attaching a gun amendment to the pending defense bill. The measure would have allowed gun owners to carry concealed weapons across state lines, even if they would be ineligible for concealed-carry permits in the states they entered.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Madeleine Brand in California.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel in Washington.

Senate Democrats have scored many legislative victories this year but not so much when it came to votes on guns. Well, that losing streak ended today. The Senate narrowly defeated a requirement that almost all states honor concealed weapons permits issued by other states.

NPR's David Welna has the story.

DAVID WELNA: When it comes to guns, Senate Democrats are divided. Many do favor tighter gun laws but those from rural and mountain states tend to favor measures expanding gun owners' rights. Republicans have successfully exploited that division several times this year. And today, South Dakota Republican John Thune tried doing so again.

He offered an amendment to a Defense budget bill that says anyone who has a permit in one state would be able to carry a loaded concealed weapon into the 47 other states that also issue permits.

Senator JOHN THUNE (Republican, South Dakota): This carefully tailored amendment will insure that a state's border is not a limit to an individual's fundamental right, and will allow law-abiding individuals to travel without complication throughout the 48 states that currently permit some form of conceal and carry.

WELNA: Thune touted his measure as being endorsed by the National Rifle Association, the Gun Owners of America and the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. That provided an opening for the Senate's number two Democrat, Dick Durbin.

Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): Did you listen to the group that has endorsed the Thune amendment? You know what's missing? Not a single law enforcement group supports John Thune's amendment. The men and women who are risking their lives for our safety every day do not support his amendment.

WELNA: Durbin's home state of Illinois and Wisconsin are the only two states that don't allow concealed carry of loaded weapons. But Durbin noted that the 48 states that do, have vastly differing standards for issuing Concealed Carry permits.

Sen. DURBIN: Under the Thune amendment, people from those states with virtually no standards for concealed carry or no requirement to prove that you know how to use gun, those people could visit states where they've established standards for the safety of their residents, and under the Thune amendment, legally carry a gun. In other words, the visitors can ignore the law of the state, a law that the elected representatives of the people in that state have enacted.

WELNA: It was a day when Democrats, who frequently back federal laws over state laws, could be heard sounding the call of states' rights, including California's Dianne Feinstein.

Senator DIANNE FEINSTEIN (Democrat, California): Here we have people who believe in states' rights, that when it comes to something they really want, are willing to pounce on states' rights and destroy them.

WELNA: Wyoming Republican John Barrasso defended the gun measure as a matter of carrying one's rights from one state to another.

Senator JOHN BARRASSO (Republican, Wyoming): Just like a driver's license - and this is my Wyoming driver's license - just like a driver's license, the Thune amendment is a license for self-defense across state lines. It means with this license, my Concealed Carry License from Wyoming, I will not be limited to Wyoming.

WELNA: That argument failed to persuade New York Democrat Charles Schumer.

Senator CHARLES SCHUMER (Democrat, New York): I understand the power of the gun lobby. I understand that we have different beliefs and represent different states. But we are not trying to say what South Dakota should do. Why should South Dakota say what New York or California should do?

WELNA: Sixty votes were needed to pass the amendment but it got only 58. Twenty of those votes came from Democrats, including Majority Leader Harry Reid who faces a tough re-election bid next year in Nevada.

Today's vote showcased a Senate majority that's grown so big that even with a third of its members crossing the aisle, the others, with the help of two Republicans, blocked a big change in gun laws.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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Senate Rejects Concealed Handgun Amendment

The Senate narrowly rejected an amendment to the defense authorization bill that would have allowed people with concealed weapons to carry them across state lines.

The measure, backed by Sen. John Thune (R-SD), was defeated in a 58-39 vote, two yeas short of the 60 required. Gun advocates wanted the bill so that permit holders in one state could transport concealed weapons into a second state, even if they were ineligible for the permit under that state's laws. Opponents said it would have forced states with strict laws to accept permits from states with less stringent laws.

The defeat, a victory for the White House and Democrats, comes a day after the Senate voted 58-40 to eliminate $1.75 billion in the $680 billion defense bill for building more F-22 fighters, which President Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates campaigned against.

The gun proposal would not have exempted permit holders from obeying the laws of other states, such as weapons bans in certain localities. It would also not allow them to carry weapons into Wisconsin and Illinois, the two states that ban concealed weapons outright.

Before the vote, Thune said his legislation "enables citizens to protect themselves while respecting individual state firearms laws." The measure was backed by the National Rifle Association.

But gun control groups strongly opposed the measure. The Violence Policy Center said concealed handgun permit holders killed at least seven police officers and 44 private citizens during a two-year period ending in April.

"It is beyond irrational for Congress to vote to expand the reach of these deadly laws," said the center's legislative director, Kristen Rand, before the vote.

It was the first major defeat for gun rights advocates so far this year after they managed to attach a provision to a credit card bill signed into law that restores the right to carry loaded firearms in national parks, and coupled a Senate vote giving the District of Columbia a vote in the House with a provision effectively ending the district's tough gun control laws.

From NPR staff and wire service reports.

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