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Senate GOP and Gay Groups Team Up for Gun Rights

June 9, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

Last month, when Congress passed the credit card reform bill, they did so with an amendment in it to allow people to bring guns into national parks. The amendment was sponsored by Sen. Tom Coburn [R, OK] and approved by the Senate on a bipartisan vote of 67-29 and agreed to by the House on a vote of 279-147. The Republican-sponsored move to add the gun-rights provision to the unrelated bill was so successful that they are now planning something similar for when the Senate takes up the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

The bill, also known as the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, would expand US federal hate-crime laws to include bodily crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. Senate Republicans and pro-gun gay groups are looking to attach the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act to it, which would allow gun owners to carry concealed weapons in states in which they are not residents. The rationale for adding it to the hate-crimes bill: concealed carry will help people defend against gay bashing. David Weigel at the Washington Independent reports:

“It makes sense for a group of people who would be protected by hate crime legislation to support something that would let them defend themselves before or after the crime,” said one Republican Senate aid familiar with the discussions. “It’s relevant, and we want to work together with gay groups to get the message out.”

While the aide described the discussions over a gun rights amendment to the hate crimes bill as “very fluid,” conservative and pro-gun rights gay groups outside of the Senate are ready to make a real push for it. GOProud, a new gay rights group that broke away from the Log Cabin Republicans in April, has talked with top staffers for Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) about how to make the civil rights case for conceal and carry reciprocity.

“We support this because we think it’s advantageous to make it legal and relatively easy for gay people to arm themselves so they can protect themselves,” said Jimmy LaSilva, who became the executive director of GOProud after three years working on policy for the Log Cabin Republicans. “In the next few weeks we want to start highlighting some of those stories. There are people who have averted gay bashings because of their ability to use guns.”

If the concealed-carry amendment is given a vote, all indications are that it will pass easily. The Senate has already voted twice this year in favor of gun-rights amendments. Besides the amendment to the credit-card bill, they approved, 62-36, an amendment to the D.C. Voting Rights Act to allow people to carry guns within the District. The fact that supporters of the concealed-carry amendment have a logical argument for why it should be added to the hate-crimes bill gives it an advantage above the other gun amendments. Plus, it already has strong support from Democratic co-sponsors in the House.

The question is what affect it would have on the underlying bill. The D.C. Voting Rights Act has stalled ever since Republicans successfully added their gun amendment to it. Democrats who supported the underlying bill won’t vote for it with the gun amendment attached. Supporters of the concealed-carry amendment, however, don’t think that will be the case with the hate-crime bill. Back to the article:

“Every Republican senator is on the record with a position on hate crimes legislation,” said GOProud’s LaSilvia. “If this were to be attached, a vote for the bill could be explained as a vote for concealed carry. Gosh — what would happen when the Family Research Council realized that their people were voting for the ‘gay bill.’ It would put a bunch of people in a really weird position. It would be fun to watch.”

One more point from me: Coming into this session of Congress and the new Obama administration there was a lot of paranoia about the Democrats enacting new, restrictive gun control laws. It was widely reported that gun sales soared following the election, and that people were stockpiling guns and ammunition. So far, though, Congress and Obama have done the opposite in regards to guns. The first gun-related law to be signed by Obama removed a restriction on carrying guns in national parks. The other gun vote – the one to allow guns in D.C. – was approved with support from 23 Democrats. And this concealed-carry bill seems like it has a real chance of becoming law via the hate-crimes bill.

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