Senate OKs guns on Amtrak

September 20th, 2009 at 9:04

Senate OKs guns on Amtrak

WASHINGTON – The Senate voted yesterday to permit Amtrak passengers to transport handguns in their checked baggage.The provision, approved 68-30, seeks to give Amtrak train riders rights comparable to those of airline passengers, who are permitted to transport firearms provided that they declare they are doing so and that the arms are unloaded and in a securely locked container.

“Americans should not have their Second Amendment rights restricted for any reason, particularly if they choose to travel on America’s federally subsidized rail line,” said Sen. Roger Wicker (R., Miss.), who offered the amendment.

Wicker’s amendment would deny Amtrak its $1.6 billion taxpayer subsidy unless it changes the gun policy.

Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) voted for the amendment. All other Philadelphia-area senators voted against it.

Amtrak’s current policy, put in place after the 2004 bombings of passenger trains in Madrid, Spain, prohibits the carrying of weapons, including firearms, on its trains.

Before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Amtrak allowed firearms if they were separately secured in locked baggage or carrying cases. After 9/11, it added restrictions on the carrying of weapons; after the Madrid bombings, it banned them.

Yesterday’s vote was the latest in a string of victories for gun-rights activists in the Senate. Twenty-seven Democrats, including Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, voted for the amendment, many from Western or Southern states. Independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who aligns with Democrats and is one of the chamber’s most liberal members, also voted yes.

Opponents of a policy change, such as Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D., Ill.), say it would be too costly and burdensome. “Amtrak doesn’t have the security infrastructure, the processes, or the trained personnel in place to ensure that checked firearms would not be lost, damaged, stolen, or misused,” Durbin said.

The chief author of the underlying transportation-appropriations bill to which the amendment was attached, Sen. Patty Murray (D., Wash.), said implementing the policy would be too costly.

Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said he “doesn’t have problems with people transporting guns on trains so long as steps are taken to make sure they’re secured and properly stowed.”

The bill still must be reconciled with a House-passed one than does not contain the Amtrak gun-rights provision.

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