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Mr. COBURN. Let me say to the majority leader before he leaves, I want to thank him for his good-faith effort in working with us on this amendment. I appreciate the manner in which he has done that.
I want everybody to know what my motivation is. This is not about a political vote. I know it seems that way, but that is further from the truth than anything that I know. This is about the U.S. Constitution.
We have two agencies within the Federal Government that, through bureaucratic means, not a vote of Congress, have limited severely the second amendment rights of individuals in this country, both on National Park and Fish and Wildlife Service land. That is 190 million acres--190 million acres.
So the motivation is for the Congress to decide when we are going to take away rights guaranteed under the Constitution. We have had a recent Supreme Court ruling that has upheld the second amendment in a strong fashion for what it really is, and this is reserved to citizens of this country.
This is not about hunting. This is not about having a gun to go hunting. A lot of people are going to make statements about, this is going to increase poaching. It does not have anything to do with that. It will not affect that at all.
In fact, on U.S. Forest Service land, the second amendment reigns as a right guaranteed under the Constitution. Under Bureau of Land Management land, the second amendment reigns. They do not have any significant increase in poaching versus the areas where we do not have guns. So the point is that people who are going to break the law are going to break the law. So we see no difference.
The second point I would make is that this is about States rights. Senator Feinstein is going to come down and talk about this. But if California decides they do not want guns in their State parks, they do not have to have them. If they decide that, then this amendment would say they do not have to have them in the Federal parks.
What it says is that we are going to allow the States the right to determine, under their gun laws, who can have a gun and where, as long as it passes the muster of the U.S. Constitution.
So this amendment has two key points. One is to protect the second amendment; and if we are to choose to eliminate somebody's second amendment rights, the Congress ought to be onboard as affirmatively limiting those rights rather than bureaucrats.
The second point is to say that States should reign supreme in terms of their parks and the national parks in their jurisdiction so that they have coverage over what their State gun laws would have in terms of application.
Let me reveal data, talking about national parks, that I don't believe many people are aware of. The latest year for which we have statistics is 2006. There were 16 homicides, 41 rapes, and multiple attempted rapes, 92 robberies, 16 kidnappings, 333 aggravated assaults, and 5,094 other felony violations. We have 1 park ranger for every 100,000 visitors, and we have 1 park ranger for every 180,000 acres. What we know is that if in your State you have the right to carry on to public lands or if you have conceal carry laws, that ought to have application to your State, not to the Federal Government's predominance over your State.
The numbers I cited only reflect what the Park Service has investigated. They do not reflect all the other offenses of the Drug Enforcement Agency, which are thousands. It doesn't reflect the Federal Bureau of Investigations or local law enforcement investigations in these areas. So even though parks are relatively safe, the fact is that oftentimes the best deterrent is for the criminal to know that if they have a gun, somebody else might also have a gun.
As a physician, I hate what guns do. I don't want guns to be used. But the fact is, the second amendment to the Constitution is real. What we have is a situation before us where bureaucrats have said: We will take your rights away. It may be that the Congress says we should do that. But if we do it, it ought to be us doing it, not unelected bureaucrats through redtape fiat to truly limit your ability and your rights guaranteed under the Constitution.
What does this amendment do? This amendment restores the second amendment rights as outlined in each individual State back to the national parks and Fish and Wildlife Service. It says if States want to change their laws with regard to those, they can. But it leaves it to the government at the closest level to the people rather than the one farthest away from the people.
We will have a lot of claims that this will have an impact on poaching. It won't have any impact. But even if it does, tell me how poaching, the unauthorized killing of animals, is a higher value order than a right guaranteed under the Constitution. You can't find it. If we are that upside down in our country about guaranteed rights and the Bill of Rights and the underlying Constitution, then we are in a lot more severe trouble than most of us would recognize.
What we also know is that on Forest Service lands, we see a certain amount of poaching, but we have a certain amount of poaching now on parklands. So we are not going to see a corresponding increase. And if we do, it is still illegal.
This amendment doesn't apply to national monuments. It preserves States rights. That means no national monument does this amendment apply to. It preserves a State's right to do what it should do. In fact, it makes Congress responsible for the limiting of our rights under the Constitution rather than bureaucrats.
The consequences of the rules that we have today are bizarre. Not long ago on the Blue Ridge Parkway, a gentleman was convicted who had a Virginia right to carry. But because he drove through the national park with his gun not broken down and not in his trunk, he was convicted of a violation of national park policy. He was traveling from one place in Virginia to another and went through a park, as he did that on the roadway. So he was found liable under a Federal law which was never intended by us and never intended under the Constitution. Yet he was compliant with his own State's gun laws.
The whole purpose of this amendment is not a gotcha amendment. It is to say: Does the second amendment mean something? If we are going to limit it, it ought to be us who do it. Do States rights mean anything and should we have bureaucrats limiting individual rights versus the Congress? If it is going to happen, the Congress has to be the body that does it.
For decades, regulations enacted by unelected bureaucrats at the National Park Service, NPS, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, FWS, have prohibited law-abiding citizens from possessing firearms on some Federal lands. The enactment of these rules pre-empted State laws, bypassed the authority of Congress, and trampled on the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans guaranteed by the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
This legislation enables Congress to belatedly weigh in on this important matter.
The Protecting Americans from Violent Crime Act of 2009 would ensure State gun laws and citizens' constitutional rights are honored on Federal lands by prohibiting the Department of Interior from creating or enforcing any regulations prohibiting an individual, not otherwise prohibited by law, from possessing a firearm in national parks and wildlife refuges in compliance with and as permitted by State law.
This legislation would prohibit Federal bureaucrats, activist judges, and special interest groups from infringing on the right for law-abiding Americans to defend themselves and their families in national parks and refuges. This legislation does not affect current hunting and poaching rules in national parks and refuges.
This legislation is still needed.
While the Department of the Interior, DOI, finalized regulations permitting the possession of firearms in national parks and refuges in accordance with State law over a 2-year time period, several anti-gun groups have successfully sued the Department of the Interior to prevent this rule from being implemented for the time being.
An activist judge blocked the final gun-in-parks rule because the Bush administration did not conduct an environmental impact analysis of the rule change. Such an analysis was not conducted because the rule change neither authorized the discharging of conceal carry weapons, nor the poaching of animals.
DOI decided not to appeal this ruling, and is, instead, conducting a lengthy environmental review before it makes a final determination on the rule change.
Even if this rule, allowing visitors to carry concealed firearms in accordance with State law, is reinstated, future administrations or activist judges could repeal these regulations without congressional approval. Unelected bureaucrats and judges should not continue to have the ability to revoke a constitutional right of law-abiding Americans. Passing this legislation will help ensure that such a comprehensive gun ban may never again be enacted by unelected officials.
Congressional leadership inappropriately blocked consideration of this measure repeatedly.
Members of Congress have repeatedly attempted to bring up this measure for a clean, fair vote. Unfortunately, congressional leadership has gone to extreme lengths to avoid having a straight up-and-down vote on this measure.
On December 19, 2007, Majority Leader Reid entered into the record the following unanimous consent agreement:
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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, following up on what the Senator from Virginia said, there actually was an event in his State on the Blue Ridge Parkway where a gentleman who was licensed to carry failed to stop completely at a stop sign and was stopped. Under his law, the laws of the State of Virginia, he was licensed to legally carry, but the park ranger found that he had guns in his car--all within the laws of the State of Virginia. Yet he was convicted because he drove through an edge of a national park, carrying a gun in a national park.
Senator Webb has described it well. This is about establishing clarity. You still can't go out and target shoot. You can't hunt. But what you can do is be within the law. So by protecting the second amendment and by protecting States rights, we will have common sense.
I would make the other point--the Senator from Connecticut is here--if your State says: We don't want to do these things, you can under this amendment. So if you have a national park and you don't allow guns in the State park, you can say you don't allow guns in the national park. So it follows completely. When the Senator from Connecticut asked me about this today, I went back to my staff, and, in fact, that is the case, that State law will reign supreme as long as there is consistency within the State and the park that is part of that State.
So I also agree with what Senator Webb said, which is the natural reaction is, this is nuts. It is not nuts. It is about commonsense application of the second amendment. It is about States rights, and it is about not putting people in jeopardy who are in jeopardy today because they are lawfully carrying out the laws of their own State.
With that, I reserve the remainder of my time.
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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, as I told the Senator from Connecticut, the underlying bill has many things I am in favor of. I don't want to see it fail on this, but nor should we want to see the second amendment trampled, nor should we want common sense to go out the window as we apply laws in this country.
The fact is, we have had very many good commonsense amendments come out of the Senate that don't come out of conference committee. I am not sure I would expect a different result on this one.
The fact still remains that we have an incoherent policy that takes away a right that has been done by bureaucrats. If we decide we don't want to do that, then that is the Congress speaking that we are not going to do that, and that is fine. But to have bureaucrats eliminate some of these second amendment rights and do so in a way that causes people confusion and puts people at risk is wrong.
So I thank the Senator for his comments. I hope he can support the amendment because it is a commonsense amendment. He has supported many other of my amendments. What you do in conference will determine whether it comes back out with that on it.
I yield back the remainder of my time.
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