Updated 5:54 p.m. ET
The Senate passed a measure today that would allow visitors to carry concealed loaded firearms in national parks and wildlife refuges, approving a bill that could restore a Bush-era policy rejected by a federal judge in March.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) introduced the bill as an amendment to the credit card reform package, which passed the Senate earlier today. Twenty-seven Democrats voted for the amendment, including Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who had blocked similar efforts in the past.
"If an American citizen has a right to carry a firearm in their state, it makes no sense to treat them like a criminal if they pass through a national park while in possession of a firearm,” Coburn said in a statement.
The Obama administration declined to file an appeal in the federal case, filed in early January by gun rights advocates.
The Interior Department made the rule change last year in response to requests by 51 senators from both parties who wanted consistency between the National Park Service's gun rules and state laws. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, then a Democratic senator from Colorado, joined his Senate colleagues in making the request while then-Sens. Barack Obama and Joe Biden did not. The rule changed a Reagan-era regulation that allows weapons to be carried into a national park or wildlife refuge only if they are disassembled and out of reach.
The White House and Interior Department officials declined to comment since the litigation continues, but Salazar addressed the issue in a recent interview with American Cowboy Magazine:
"The issue of guns is an ideological issue and a divisive issue. It divides the country, and I hope it doesn’t become the defining issue for the Department of the Interior or for these times," he said.
"No one is about taking away the rights of gun owners," Salazar said later. "The President is not about that. Neither am I. So as we deal with this specific issue, we will make sure we are honoring the Second Amendment and also honoring the public safety and environmental concerns people have raised about the issue."
When asked, Salazar, who grew up on a ranch, said he would carry a gun into a national park if he felt he was in danger.
"You’re out sometimes on the ranch our in the mountains, there’s a sense of security you have with a gun with you. So I have a great respect for guns," he said.
The House could pass the gun bill as early as tomorrow. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said today that his chamber could vote separately on the gun legislation, allowing members to vote differently on the gun and credit card bills. The two measures would then be rejoined and sent to the president as a single bill, Hoyer said.
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