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Senate rejects concealed-weapons measure

Opponents decry policy as dangerous

By Jim Abrams
Associated Press / July 23, 2009

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WASHINGTON - The Senate yesterday 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 Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, 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 strong majority of the Senate, in a 58-to-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 spending 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.

New England’s senators split along party lines, with Republicans voting for the measure and all Democrats opposing it, along with independents Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who usually vote with Democrats.

There were also notable defections. Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, and Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Democrat, who voted in February to strip the District of Columbia of its strict gun control laws, opposed the concealed weapon measure. Specter was a Republican at the time of the previous vote. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, a pro-gun rights Democrat, also opposed it.

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.’’

Gun rights advocates had been hopeful of winning passage of the measure after a string of victories. Congress earlier this year voted to allow visitors to carry loaded guns in national parks and wildlife refuges. The Senate voted to limit Washington’s gun control laws, and a House committee recently voted to prevent public housing projects from restricting legally owned guns.

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