WASHINGTON — The Senate failed Wednesday to approve a measure that would've allowed people who have permission to carry concealed weapons in their home states to carry them in all other states that issue such permits.
The legislation, an amendment to the defense appropriations bill, had the backing of some gun-friendly Democrats from Southern and Western states and the National Rifle Association, but was opposed by more than 400 mayors, top law-enforcement officials and some of the victims' families from the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings, in which 32 people died.
Proponents of the measure outnumbered opponents 58 to 39, but that was fewer than the 60 votes needed to have it attached to the bill.
"This is something that I believe is consistent with the constitutional right that citizens in this country have to keep and bear firearms," Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said after the vote. "The right to defend oneself, and the right to exercise that basic Second Amendment constitutional right, does not end at state borders or with state lines."
Democratic Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska and Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana were among the legislation's co-sponsors.
Many Western-state senators who met with Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor asked her about gun rights issues. The subject came up during her confirmation hearing last week, at which she voiced support for a Supreme Court decision that struck down a District of Columbia ban on handgun ownership. However, she didn't disavow an appeals court ruling in which she'd suggested that the 2nd Amendment applied only to federal laws, not state ones.
Sotomayor said that the latter decision "presented a different question, and that was whether that individual right (to bear arms) would limit the activities that states could do to regulate the possession of firearms."
Mayors Against Illegal Guns, led by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, took out an ad in Tuesday's edition of USA Today outlining why the city leaders oppose the measure. The legislation "threatens the safety of our police officers by making it far more difficult to distinguish between legal and illegal firearm possession," the mayors wrote in a letter to congressional leaders.
In a news conference Wednesday morning, Bloomberg called the measure's sponsors "craven" for attaching their amendment to a military spending bill
The legislation should be deemed the "gun trafficker protection amendment," Bloomberg charged. "They're using our men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan as pawns in their ideological game. That's about as cynical as you can get. This legislation guts every single state's ability to make their own public safety laws."
Opponents also said they were concerned that people with concealed carry permits from states with weak criteria for obtaining them would be allowed to carry concealed weapons in states where the rules governing who gets permits are tougher, said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. Illinois and Wisconsin are the only states that don't permit private citizens to carry concealed weapons.
Some states with concealed-weapon laws have reciprocal agreements with other states that issue permits. States with broad support for gun rights, such as Idaho and Alaska, allow anyone who has a valid permit from another state or local law-enforcement agency to carry concealed weapons.
"America will not be safer" with the amendment, Durbin argued on the floor of the Senate. "New York should not have to let visitors on its city streets be governed by the laws of Alaska when it comes to carrying guns."
(David Goldstein contributed to this report.)
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