Gun control and gun rights advocates are heading for another clash with a Senate vote on a measure that would allow people with concealed weapons permits to carry those hidden weapons into other states.
Backers, led by Senator John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, say truckers and others with concealed weapons permits should be able to protect themselves when they cross into other states.
Opponents say the measure would force states with strict procedures for getting permits to accept permits from states with more lax laws. The Senate has scheduled a vote Wednesday on the measure, which Thune offered as an amendment to a major defense policy bill.
Under an agreement reached among Senate leaders, 60 votes will be needed to approve the amendment.
The vote comes a day after the Senate dealt with what is probably the most controversial issue connected to the defense bill, voting 58-40 to eliminate $1.75 billion in the $680 billion bill that had been set aside for building more F-22 fighters. President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates campaigned hard for removing the money, saying the Pentagon had enough F-22s and the money could be spent on more pressing defense needs.
The gun proposal would make concealed weapons permits from one state valid in other states as long as the person obeys the laws of other states in such areas as weapons bans in certain localities. It does not establish national standards for concealed weapons permits and would not allow those with permits to carry weapons into Wisconsin and Illinois, the two states that do not have concealed weapons laws.
"Law-abiding South Dakotans should be able to exercise the right to bear arms in states with similar regulations on concealed firearms," Thune said. "My legislation enables citizens to protect themselves while respecting individual state firearms laws."
National Rifle Association chief lobbyist Chris W Cox said the last two decades have shown a strong shift toward gun rights laws. "We believe it's time for Congress to acknowledge these changes and respect the right of self-defense, and the right of self-defense does not stop at state lines," said the lobbyist for the NRA which advocates gun owners' rights.
Gun control groups were strongly in opposition. Concealed handgun permit holders killed at least seven police officers and 44 private citizens during a two-year period ending in April, according to a study by the Violence Policy Center.
"It is beyond irrational for Congress to vote to expand the reach of these deadly laws," said the center's legislative director, Kristen Rand. Sen. Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said the bill would "incite a dangerous race to the bottom in our nation's gun laws."
He said his own state, which has strict gun control laws, would have to accept concealed weapons permits from states such as Arizona, which issues permits to people with drinking problems, or Alaska, where people with violent misdemeanor convictions can get permits.