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Gun Advocates Go to War over Concealed-Carry Legislation in Congress

February 19th 2015

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Gun rights groups are gearing up for a major push to move concealed-carry legislation through the new Republican Congress.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) and other Second Amendment advocates are throwing their weight behind the Constitutional Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, a bill introduced in both chambers of Congress that would allow gun owners to carry concealed weapons across state lines.

“The Second Amendment doesn’t end at the border of your state,” said Larry Keane, general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation. “This would enhance the rights of law-abiding citizens to protect themselves when they’re away from home."

Chris Cox, the executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action, said the bill is needed to clarify a “patchwork of state and local laws” that is “confusing for even the most conscientious and well-informed concealed carry permit holders.”

"The constitutional right to self-defense does not stop at a state's borders. Law-abiding citizens should be able to exercise this fundamental right while traveling across state lines,” Cox said last week.Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) is the chief sponsor of the concealed-carry bill in the upper chamber, while Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.) is spearheading the push in the House.

Supporters of the legislation believe they can secure enough Democratic votes in the Senate to overcome a filibuster and get the legislation to President Obama’s desk.

While Obama is unlikely to sign the bill, given his support for stricter gun controls, getting the legislation through Congress would give Second Amendment advocates a significant victory.

Gun-control groups are planning to fight back hard, setting the stage for what promises to be a contentious battle over Second Amendment rights ahead of the 2016 elections.

Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, called the concealed-carry legislation “evil and dangerous.”

Brian Malte, policy director at the Brady Campaign, said the bill creates a “race to the bottom” that “paralyzes” states with stronger gun laws.

Gun owners who qualify for concealed carry permits in Texas, for example, would be allowed to bring their firearms into states with tougher gun laws where they may otherwise be denied.

"Local law enforcement would powerless to stop them,” Malte said.

Cornyn’s concealed-carry bill came just three votes shy of passing in 2013, when Democrats still controlled the Senate. Seven of the Democrats who voted for the bill remain in Congress, potentially giving Republicans a shot at a 60-vote majority.

The Republican House has passed the concealed-carry bill before, and by a comfortable margin.

Supporters of the legislation are casting the bill as common sense, arguing it would preserve states’ rights by requiring gun owners to follow the concealed-carry laws in the places they are visiting.

“This operates more or less like a driver’s license,” Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican in the upper chamber, told The Hill last week. “So, for example, if you have a driver’s license in Texas, you can drive in New York, in Utah and other places, subject to the laws of those states.”

Cornyn said the bill would “eliminate some of the ‘gotcha moments,’ where people inadvertently cross state lines” with guns and are arrested.

The fight over the bill could come down to a handful of rural-state Democrats who are generally supportive of gun rights.

Gun-rights groups are counting on the support of 53 Senate Republicans, with the lone dissenter being Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who has voted against the legislation before. That leaves them seven votes short of a filibuster-proof majority.

Advocates plan to focus much of their lobbying on the Senate Democrats who have voted for the concealed carry bill in the past: Sens. Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Martin Heinrich (N.M.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Tom Udall (N.M.) and Mark Warner (Va.).

Manchin, who is mulling a run for governor in West Virginia, has already signed on as a co-sponsor of Cornyn’s bill.

Concealed-carry supporters are also hoping to recruit into the fold Democratic senators Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Angus King (Maine), Bill Nelson (Fla.) and Tim Kaine (Va.).

Erich Pratt, a spokesman for the Gun Owners of America, promised to give the potential Democratic swing votes "extra special attention” in the coming months.

“Freedom of speech and freedom of religion doesn’t stop when you leave the state and neither should the Second Amendment,” Pratt said.

Gun-control groups have a lobbying strategy of their own, and hope to flip Senate Republicans who voted in favor of a bill in 2013 that would have expanded gun background checks.

Those Republicans include Sens. Pat Toomey (Pa.) and John McCain (Ariz.), both of whom are up for reelection in 2016, as well as Sen. Susan Collins (Maine).

Tim Devaney writes for The Hill, from where this article is adapted.


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