WASHINGTON – Gun rights advocates have found a sweet spot in Democratic-dominated Washington, and they are using it to aggressively push legislation.
Their latest victory came Wednesday when the House passed a bill that will allow people to bring concealed and loaded guns into national parks.
Advocates won with the help of moderate Democrats. Those Democrats, many from the South and Midwest, joined nearly all House Republicans to back Wednesday’s provision, which has passed in the Senate and could become law this week. The gun bill passed 279 to 147 with the help of 105 Democratic votes; 145 Democrats opposed the bill.
The legislation was the latest defeat for gun-control advocates, who had expected more success with a Democratic president and Democratic majorities in Congress.
The bill to grant the District of Columbia a voting member in the House remains stalled after Senate Republicans attached a provision to the legislation that effectively would repeal many of Washington’s gun restrictions.
Wednesday’s provision, originally sponsored by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., would allow gun owners to bring the weapons into national parks and wildlife refuges as long as they are permitted by the laws of the state in which the park is located. The bill codifies a change the Bush administration had sought in its final months, but a federal judge blocked the effort in March.
Obama administration officials had not sought to overturn the judge’s ruling. But Coburn, who had long sought the change, inserted his amendment this month on credit card legislation that is one of Obama’s top priorities. The move effectively forced Democrats to vote on the gun provision if they wanted to pass the credit card bill.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who is among the Democratic backers of the bill, defended it as a protection of the Second Amendment.
A coalition of groups that included the Fraternal Order of Police and the Association of National Park Rangers slammed the bill, saying it will “increase the risk of poaching, vandalism of historic park treasures and threats to park visitors and staff.”
The House on Wednesday passed the larger legislation, which imposes new rules on credit card companies, by a 361-64 vote, and Obama could sign it as soon as Friday.
Earlier this year after Attorney General Eric Holder suggested the Obama administration would seek to reinstate a ban on assault weapons, a bloc of 65 House Democrats, many of whom voted for Wednesday’s legislation, wrote to Holder saying they would oppose his effort.
Democratic aides privately admitted many Democrats feel pressure to back bills on gun legislation or face political heat from the National Rifle Association, particularly in more rural districts. Worried about the gun issue continuing to come up, top Democratic aides in both chambers plan to meet soon to develop a strategy to block pro-gun provisions on Democratic bills.
“We have a Democratic president, a Democratic House and Democrat Senate, and we’re passing more gun legislation than when there was a Republican in the White House,” said Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., a gun control advocate in Congress. “It’s disappointing.”
Guns rights advocates defended Wednesday’s bill as an effort to give gun owners the same rights on national park land that they have everywhere else. But they said they would look to find other ways to push Democrats into backing gun-rights measures.
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., is pushing a provision that would overturn Amtrak’s current rules that don’t allow the transport of firearms in checked bags.
“The lessons of 1994 have not been forgotten,” said Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, referring to the year President Clinton signed an assault weapons ban into law.
“The Democrats lost control of Congress after passing a gun ban.”
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