In a narrow and rare defeat for gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association, the United States Senate today voted down a proposal that would have allowed certain gun owners to carry concealed weapons across state lines.
The Senate's 58 to 39 vote fell just short of the 60 votes needed to tack on the contentious amendment to a massive defense policy bill. Senators will continue to wade through other provisions of the $680 billion defense authorization bill throughout the week before taking a vote on whether to pass the complete package.
The amendment would have let people with concealed weapons permits carry their guns into other states as long as they followed that state's laws about where concealed weapons are permissible.
Prior to today's vote, the NRA had prevailed on three major gun-rights bills this year, including measures to lift a federal ban on guns in National Parks, allow stored guns to be carried on Amtrak, and to strip the Washington, D.C., City Council's ability to regulate gun ownership.
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Those who disliked the proposal and ultimately won today's fight worried states with stricter gun laws would be trumped by those with more lax requirements if the amendment became law.
"Each state has considered this issue and has decided what is safe for their residents," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said today on the Senate floor. For instance, he said some states prohibit abusers of alcohol, those convicted of crimes, and people who haven't completed a gun use training course from carrying a weapon.
"Clearly, large, urban areas merit a different standard than rural areas," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement earlier this week. "To gut the ability of local police and sheriffs to determine who should be able to carry a concealed weapon makes no sense."
Today, Schumer added that the proposal "directly threatens the safety of millions of New Yorkers," suggesting that people could transport guns in something as simple as a backpack from neighboring Vermont, where requirements are less stringent, and carry them onto the streets of the Bronx or into Central Park.
"Our local police would have their hands tied," Schumer said.
Democrat Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania also opposed the effort.
"From my own experience growing up in Kansas and being District Attorney of Philadelphia, I know states need to prescribe their own rules for carrying a concealed deadly weapon," Specter said Tuesday. "This is the essence of federalism.
"My vote against the Thune Amendment will not limit the constitutional rights of hunters and gun owners," he said. "Pennsylvania already recognizes concealed carry permits from 24 other states where their laws are similar."
But the gun debate was not an issue that cut down party lines, and some thought the legislative climate was ripe for the proposal to advance. Many new Democrats from conservative states are supportive of gun rights. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was among 20 Democrats who voted in favor of the amendment.
Ultimately, the measure was defeated because two veteran Republicans who frequently support gun rights voted against it. Both Indiana's Richard Lugar and Ohio's George were surprise "No" votes. Neither has explained their decision.