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Public Statements

Water Resources Development Act of 2013 - Continued

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. COBURN. A couple of years ago I added an amendment in our deliberative process that gave Americans their constitutional rights in the U.S. National Forest. There were two main reasons I did that.

No. 1, the amount of murders, rapes, robberies, and assaults were rising; and No. 2, there is some confusion with the conceal and carry State laws.

We have 35 or 36 States that have conceal and carry State laws, but when someone accidentally walks onto U.S. forest land, they are actually violating Federal law even though they might not know they are on State land versus Federal land.

I would note that since that time the amount of crime in our national parks has declined. So since then, we now have, throughout the country, the same approach we have in national parks on the Bureau of Land Management areas, the Forest Service, the National Park Service, and the National Wildlife Refuge.

The reason this is important for the Corps of Engineers is because after we passed those amendments, the corps proactively stated that none of this applied to them. Well, the fact is the corps has more visitors every year on their 422 lake and river projects, 11.7 million acres, 95,000 camp sites, and 6,500 miles of trails, and they have more than 370 million visitors. Corps projects are the most visited of any single Federal agency sites--even more than the 280 million annual visitors to our national parks.

Americans who camp, hunt, or fish on these federally managed lands are prevented from exercising their Second Amendment rights that have been guaranteed by the Supreme Court, but also are under the jurisdiction of their State laws.

The purpose of this amendment is so law-abiding citizens who are granted the authority in their State will not be vulnerable to criminals or dangerous wildlife while on Army Corps land, and we, in fact, will ensure they have their rights guaranteed. This does not include an exemption for Federal facilities, Army Corps headquarters, research facilities, lock or dam buildings, or any other significant infrastructure associated with the corps. This amendment would simply require the Corps of Engineers to follow State firearm possession laws on lands and waters managed by them--the same approach the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, the National Parks, and the National Wildlife Refuges use.

It is a simple issue. This is the only area of Federal lands now where we put people in double jeopardy if they are accidentally on corps land; they are violating Federal law even though they are complying with their State laws. They are totally in compliance with the State laws, but if they step one foot onto corps land, they are violating corps regulations. This amendment makes it consistent across all government lands--we have already done it everywhere else--the corps land, which is the most visited, the most utilized lands we have in the country. It is straightforward.

I am very appreciative of the chairman of this committee for her cooperation in allowing this amendment. As a matter of fact, I am so cooperative I am not going to offer the other one so I can help move her bill forward. I congratulate her on the bipartisan work she has done on her committee.

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Mr. COBURN. I think this is a principled stand. The question is, Why should we not have the same policy everywhere, No. 1; and No. 2, Why would we dare deny the rights we give everywhere else on Federal Government-owned land--why would we do something different on corps land?

I actually wouldn't even be offering this had the corps not proactively stated that what we passed did not apply to them. We actually intended for it to apply and, technically, they could get out. All we are saying is let's make it the same everywhere, so you can follow State law, be a good, law-abiding citizen; but if a person happens to walk onto corps land, they are violating a Federal statute according to the corps. Not on BLM lands, not on Forest Service lands, not in the Parks, but if a person walks up to a lake in Oklahoma that is run by the corps, they are violating Federal law but they are not violating State law. So we ought to have consistency with our law. This is about consistency, good government, and common sense. Wouldn't it be a tragedy--and it happens all the time--that a person is on a campsite in Oklahoma and because there is no law allowing that person to carry their weapon onto that campsite, they are vulnerable to the prey of people who are going to violate that law. That is exactly what was happening in the national parks. We were having women raped, we were having people murdered, we were having people accosted and robbed. Guess what. That has all markedly declined since we allowed gun owners to carry their guns. There has not been, to my knowledge, one case of an inappropriate use by a law-abiding citizen of their weapons in those areas. So it is common sense.

My hope is we will pass this amendment and have a consistent law on all Federal lands so people can be protected under the Second Amendment, people can follow their State's law and do it adequately and accurately and be great law-abiding citizens.

With that, I reserve the remainder of my time.

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Mr. COBURN. Madam President, first of all, our amendment exempts the areas the chairman talked about--locks and dams. All those areas are exempt from this amendment. As ranking member on Homeland Security, I know more about these issues than probably anybody other than our chairman and the past chairman and ranking member in terms of the safety.

The people the chairman talks about do not care what the law is now. They do not care what the law is. So the people about whom we are going to be worried--Boston has pretty tight laws. They did not care what the laws were. They broke multiple sets of laws, as we saw what happened in Boston. We have to prepare for that regardless of whether this amendment goes through.

I would also note, in several of our national parks we have corps land where we have hydroelectric facilities and we have these things. We have not had any problem with that. What we have had is a marked decline in the number of rapes and a marked decline in the number of murders in national parks since we instituted the State laws in national parks for guns.

On campgrounds we do have problems with rapes, with accosts, with assaults, with robberies; and we do have murders on corps land and campgrounds. So the point is, standardizing where you can go--I would also make the point, we only allow State law to apply. If Oklahoma law is different than California law, it is not Oklahoma law, it is whatever California law is and recognizing that individual right so we do not put people in jeopardy when they accidentally get on corps land.

I understand her inhibition toward it, toward any expression of the Second Amendment generally. But the fact is we ought to have a common policy in all areas. We already do it in Bureau of Land Management, we already do it in the Forest Service, we already do it in national parks. So we should not exempt the corps.

The fact is, the people who are going to violate our laws are not the law-abiding citizens. They are not the law-abiding citizens. It does not matter what we do; they are not going to pay attention to what we do. The one thing we have proven in the National Parks is, when we allowed people the ability to carry and follow their own State's law in terms of their Second Amendment, we saw rapes go down, we saw murders go down, we saw assaults go down, and we saw robberies go down in the national parks.

The same thing will happen on corps land. Most of the people will not carry. Most of the people will not come in. But to deny the ability to do that, that is what this amendment is about.

I will be happy to debate the Senator further. The fact is, there is a big difference in our view of what the Second Amendment should be about in this country and our trusting of law-abiding citizens to do the right things. Her issue on critical infrastructure--we are doing everything we can do to protect that now and building toward the ultimate goals of where we need to be, and this is not going to change our approach. It is not going to change it at all. So I would dispute the fact that it is going to change our approach.

As we look at critical infrastructure and the protection of it, we are going to do the same whether or not this amendment passes. It is not going to have any impact on it.

My hope would be that since I actually have withdrawn the other amendment we would yield back the time and move to Senator Whitehouse's amendment as soon as we can.

With that, I reserve the remainder of my time.

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Mr. COBURN. I will get the Senator the actual statute.

Federal structures are covered under another statute and I will get that statute for it. The reason we did not specifically represent that is because they are already covered. We did not exclude those structures. We said: Corps land. We did not specifically say that, and we will get you the code where Federal structures are excluded.

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Mr. COBURN. Madam President, I do not have any intention of withdrawing the amendment. There is a Federal statute that already prohibits the carrying of firearms in Federal buildings and structures, and we will get the Senator the statute. That is very clear. We were advised by legislative counsel we did not have to put that in there because it is already prohibited. I will challenge the statement of the CRS and will give the Senator the section of the code that provides that.

Again, the point is, this critical infrastructure is already being beefed up. We are going to be doing that in Homeland Security. We are doing that in Homeland Security, and it has no bearing whatsoever on the Second Amendment right to unify our policies across all government-owned land in this country.

I yield the floor.

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