A measure taken up by the Senate Monday would give people the right to carry concealed weapons across state lines as long as they obey the concealed gun laws of the state they are visiting.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said his proposal would reduce crime by providing reciprocity to carry concealed firearms. "My legislation enables citizens to protect themselves while respecting individual state firearms laws," he said.
Thune's bill was offered as an amendment to a $680 billion defense spending policy bill and could further slow completion of that must-pass legislation.
Debate on defense issues, including a controversy over whether the Pentagon should buy more F-22 fighter jets, was already delayed by time spent on a measure to expand federal hate crimes law. Under the proposal, hate crimes would also cover acts of violence based on the gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability of the victim.
Support from guns rights groups
Thune's bill, supported by the National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups, would allow people with concealed weapons privileges in one state to transfer that right to other states, contingent on their following the laws of those other states. Many state gun laws specify locations where concealed weapons can, or cannot, be carried.
It does not, Thune said, provide for a national carry permit and would not permit the concealing of weapons in the two states — Wisconsin and Illinois — that do not allow the practice.
Opponents threatened delay tactics with the aim of subjecting the gun amendment to a 60-vote majority for approval. The amendment "could endanger the safety of millions of Americans," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
"To gut the ability of local police and sheriffs to determine who should be able to carry a concealed weapon makes no sense," he said. Timing for a vote on the amendment was uncertain.
The Senate on Monday also approved remaining amendments to the hate crimes bill, including one describing when perpetrators of hate crimes will be subject to the death penalty and another creating a new federal crime for targeted attacks on members of the military or their families.
On Thursday the Senate adopted the body of the hate crimes measure by voice after voting 63-28 to overcome a GOP-led filibuster. The bill, promoted for more than a decade by ailing Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., expands those categories covered by hate crimes and makes it easier for federal authorities to aid state and local prosecutions or take over cases when the local authorities can't or are unwilling to pursue them.
Current law dates back to 1968
Current law, dating back to 1968, covers crimes motivated by race, color, national origin or religion.
Managers of the defense bill hope to get back on track Tuesday with a vote on the biggest dispute surrounding the measure, which authorizes defense programs for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.
President Barack Obama, backed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, says there is no need to produce more F-22s beyond the 187 already in the pipeline and has threatened to veto the Senate bill unless it removes $1.75 billion for seven more jets. It would be the first veto of the Obama administration.
Obama and Gates argue that the money for the jets, which cost about $140 million each, can be put to better use equipping the military to fight today's unconventional wars. Supporters of the F-22, built by Lockheed Martin Corp., point to the 95,000 jobs directly or indirectly tied to F-22 production.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and the top Republican on the panel, John McCain of Arizona, have sponsored an amendment to strip the $1.75 billion from the bill.