NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2010 -- (Senate - July 22, 2009)
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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, 2 years ago I opposed a bill considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee to strip State and local police departments of their ability to enforce rules and policies on when and how their own officers can carry weapons. Today, I continue to oppose attempts to supersede or limit State gun control laws, and for this reason I oppose Senator Thune's amendment that would infringe on the ability of State and local governments to regulate concealed guns in their jurisdictions. I have said it before, and I say it again--each State should be able to make its own judgment about whether citizens can carry concealed weapons within their jurisdictions. There is no reason for Congress to override gun safety measures in any State.
Yet the Thune amendment would override the laws of 48 States by requiring them to recognize concealed carry permits from other States, even if the permit holder would not be allowed to possess or carry a gun under the laws of those States. Currently, only two States--Illinois and Wisconsin--have a total prohibition against concealed carry weapons. This amendment would require the remaining 48 States to recognize a permit granted by another State that has issued a concealed weapon permit. Such a system leads to ludicrous results. For example, under the Thune amendment, a person who can't obtain a concealed carry permit in his home State could apparently circumvent his State law by finding another State in which that person would be eligible for a nonresident permit and then, using the reciprocity granted by the amendment, carry the concealed weapon back home.
State and local governments do not have a one-size-fits-all approach on gun control. Yet the Thune amendment treats them as if they were all the same. Under this amendment, a State would be prevented from limiting who can carry a concealed gun in its jurisdiction. In doing so, the amendment threatens the safety of our citizens, our communities, and our States.
States need the right to control who can carry a concealed weapon in their jurisdiction. What State officials, law enforcement, and legislators decide are the best policies for rural States may not be the best policies for urban States--and vice versa. This bill creates a race to the bottom, in which gun owners can get a permit in a State with the least restrictive licensing regulations and use that gun in every other State--except Illinois and Wisconsin, where there is a total prohibition. The amendment even entitles residents in Alaska and Vermont, the two States that allow residents to carry concealed guns without permits, to carry their guns in other States.
In 35 States, such as Massachusetts, a permit holder must have attended a safety course. Other States don't require a safety course, and residents in Alaska or Vermont are not required to have a permit at all. Yet, with the adoption of the Thune amendment, gun owners would be able to carry a concealed weapon without a safety course in all these States. This is absurd. In addition, other State licensing laws, which prohibit permits for individuals with criminal backgrounds or substance abuse problems, would be waived under the Thune amendment if the individual is issued a permit in a jurisdiction with more permissive regulations.
According to the most recent statistics, in 2006, an average of nine young people aged 19 and under were killed by a gun each day in the United States. In 2007, an average of 48 children a day were nonfatally wounded. The scourge of gun violence frequently attacks the most helpless members of our society--our children. Does the Thune amendment--authorizing more widespread use of concealed guns--improve these statistics? Does creating a system that reduces the regulations for permits for many concealed gun carriers improve these statistics? I think not.
In fact, it was found that concealed handgun license holders in Texas were arrested for weapon-related offenses at a rate 81 percent higher than that of the general population of Texas, aged 21 and older. Expanding the ability of a concealed gun holder to carry his weapon in a far larger number of jurisdictions will not lower gun deaths or crime.
Our brave police forces face risks every day in the line of duty. Policing the streets, and even routine traffic stops, are perilous enough without increasing the number of guns that officers encounter. Under the Thune
amendment there is no easy way for a police officer to determine the legality of a gun being concealed by an individual with a permit from outside the State. This confusion, and the increase in the number of guns on the street, could result in violent incidents, some of which could lead to more deaths from gun violence. The Senate should be working to make the job of police officers safer. The Thune amendment does the opposite.
The amendment takes away the right of a State to determine who can carry a concealed gun within that State. As a result, the amendment will increase the number of concealed guns that will be allowed on any given street. More than 400 mayors, numerous State legislators, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and the Major Cities Chiefs Association oppose this amendment because of the danger it brings to our streets, our citizens, and our law enforcement. I strongly urge my colleagues to vote against Senator Thune's amendment. It is unwise policy that could lead to tragic results.
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