Will Congress Go Gun Crazy?
Enough already with the guns. This seems to be the year when the National Rifle Association is out to prove that it controls all 50 states, using its legislative clout in Washington to make gains that may never be rolled back. Lawmakers seem so afraid to cross fanatical gun owners that they just won't stand up and be counted.
The new test of Congress's backbone will come Wednesday, when the Senate votes on an amendment by John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota, that will effectively prevent states from enforcing their own gun laws. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid gave a green light to the vote because he's afraid to antagonize the NRA ahead of the 2010 elections.
Thune's plan is to let any gun owner cross state lines with a gun and be bound by the lenient laws in his home state, rather than follow the statutes in the state he is visiting. This effectively creates a lowest common denominator, allowing a state such as Alaska, which allows repeat violent offenders to carry concealed weapons, to prevent the 35 states that prohibit concealed weapons to enforce their own laws.
More than 400 city mayors and most big-city police forces have come out against the law. Democrats are scrambling to try to defeat it, but key legislators seem reluctant to stand up and oppose it.
The irony is that the staunchest supporters are the same lawmakers who profess to believe in state's rights. In fact, they only believe in states' rights when they happen to agree with what the state is planning to do. They're quite happy to impose their own views on others whenever it suits them. Thune's defense is that carrying a concealed weapon is a fundamental right that doesn't disappear when you cross a state border, an argument that the Supreme Court explicitly chose not to endorse as recently as last year.
As the New York Times points out in an editorial today, this is a radical proposal, one that will nullify dozens of state laws, put police officers at risk, and increase gun violence.
And before the gun advocates let loose with their usual complaints that criminals will get guns no matter what, consider this: In the last two years, people with permits to carry concealed weapons ended up killing seven police officers and 44 civilians, sometimes in cases of mistaken identity. The simple fact is that it's not just criminals who are a danger when it comes to concealed weapons.
Thune wants to attach his amendment to the unrelated Pentagon authorization bill. He'll need 60 votes to succeed. If he does prevail, let's hope it gets dropped in conference with the House. If not, it's grounds enough for Obama to veto the bill.
Update: On Wednesday, supporters of the Thune amendment fell two votes short of the 60 needed for adoption. Thune vowed to try again later this year.