Senate Democrats who backed ‘concealed-carry’ in 2013 no longer on board

Marilyn Smolenski uses a mock gun to demonstrate how to pull a handgun out of the concealed carry clothing she designs at her home in Park Ridge, Ill. Interest in clothing that allow women to carry a firearm concealed is rising.
Marilyn Smolenski uses a mock gun to demonstrate how to pull a handgun out of the concealed carry clothing she designs at her home in Park Ridge, Ill. Interest in clothing that allow women to carry a firearm concealed is rising. AP

Senate Republicans used to be able to rely on red-state Democrats to help bolster bills loosening gun restrictions. Not anymore.

Of the 13 Senate Democrats who voted in 2013 to allow concealed carry gun permits to be recognized across state lines, seven remain in office. At least four confirmed to McClatchy on Tuesday they would not vote for that same bill again.

That means that even if the so-called "Concealed-Carry Reciprocity Act" passes in the House on Wednesday, as widely expected, it is all but dead on arrival in the Senate.

In that chamber, 60 votes are needed for a bill to advance. Since Republicans control 52 seats, the GOP would need eight Democrats to join them. Currently, it's not clear they have any.

That the seven members who supported the measure four years ago are no longer on board shows how the gun debate has changed.

The 2013 vote on concealed-carry legislation took place in the aftermath of the late-2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, where young children and their teachers were killed.

While the optics might not have been ideal for a vote on legislation making it easier to carry guns from state to state, 13 Democrats still felt emboldened to vote “yes.” Even at that time, it wasn’t enough to get the bill over the finish line, with all other Democrats opposing along with one Republican, then-Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois.

Since then, there has been a rash of other mass shootings around the country. Targets have included a movie theater in Colorado and an historic black church in Charleston, a gay nightclub in Orlando and an outdoor music festival in Las Vegas. The most recent mass shooting occurred last month at a Sunday church service in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

The troubling trend prompted Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., one of the 13 Democratic “yes” votes in 2013, to release a statement in March announcing he would not vote for the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act should it reach the Senate floor.

“In the four years since the Senate’s last significant gun safety debate, the country has suffered over 100 mass shootings and tens of thousands of Americans are killed through gun violence each year,” Warner said. “Knowing what I know today, if and when (the bill) comes before the Senate for a vote, I will oppose it in the interest of the safety of all Virginians."

Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., said he opposed the concealed-carry bill because states have different standards by which permits are issued, and it’s not “realistic” to make all of them equal.

Asked why he didn’t oppose the legislation on those grounds four years ago, Heinrich said he’d have to go back and refresh his memory, but conceded that “I think the approach that’s being taken now, especially given the challenges that we have with mass shootings and gun violence in this country, is not the thoughtful way to go about this.”

Sen. Tom Udall, another New Mexico Democrat, confirmed through a spokeswoman he also don’t support the bill this time because states have in the intervening years adopted weaker guidelines for granting concealed-carry permits, which would undermine stricter guidelines set by other jurisdictions.

Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Jon Tester of Montana said they were studying the measure, a top legislative priority of the National Rifle Association and championed by Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas.

“I really haven’t had a chance to take a look at it,” said Tester. “I’m going to tell you I’d be open to it, but I gotta see it. I gotta look at it.”

Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., told McClatchy to contact his press office, which did not return requests for comment.

In the House, Republican leaders anticipated overwhelming Democratic opposition by packaging the concealed-carry bill with two other measures.

One would put more mechanisms in place to ensure federal background checks are administered without error, while another would require the Justice Department to rule on the legality of “bump stocks,” an accessory that can make a semiautomatic rifle more lethal.

Though a few Democratic centrists are expected to back the bill on Wednesday, the majority of Democrats has not been swayed.

Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., the sponsor of the House bill, said the three bills were collectively “a big win for freedom” and predicted they would pass the Senate as a package, too.

Cornyn, however, told reporters on Tuesday that he expected to move the measures separately to at least allow the background check measure, which he also sponsored, to advance.

“I support both of the bills, but I recognize that when you put them together, it makes it harder for us to do what we can do and can do now, and need to do now, which is pass (the background check bill),” Cornyn said. “I’m willing to separate those two out.”

“We’ll see,” Hudson said when told support was eroding from the seven Democrats who voted “yes” on concealed-carry reciprocity in 2013. “We’ll see.”

Brian Murphy and Andrea Drusch of McClatchy’s Washington bureau contributed to this report.

Emma Dumain: 202-383-6126, @Emma_Dumain