WASHINGTON — The Senate on Wednesday narrowly defeated an effort to allow gun owners to carry their concealed weapons across state lines.
The 58-39 vote, short of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster, once again highlighted divisions within the Democratic Party over the gun issue. Twenty Democrats, including Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, joined 38 Republicans in supporting the measure.
The legislation would have allowed people who have concealed-weapon permits in their home states to take their firearms into other states -- including California and others that currently prohibit the practice.
"An individual should be able to exercise their 2nd Amendment constitutional right and be able to travel through individual states," said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the chief sponsor. He added that under the bill, a gun owner would have been required to abide by the laws of the host state, including following any restrictions on where concealed weapons can be carried.
The National Rifle Assn., which has vowed to work to bring the legislation back, said that "the right to self-defense does not end at state lines."
Gun rights advocates had been hopeful the measure would pass after a string of surprising victories in the Democratic-controlled Congress.
Earlier this year, lawmakers voted to allow visitors to carry loaded guns in national parks and wildlife refuges. The Senate voted to limit Washington, D.C.'s gun control laws, and a House committee voted to prevent public housing projects from restricting legally owned guns.
But Wednesday's vote, said Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), is evidence that the gun lobby's "grip on Congress is beginning to slip."
Opponents of the measure -- including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the International Assn. of Chiefs of Police and the mayors of Los Angeles and New York, among others -- called it an assault on states' rights and warned that it would increase gun violence.
"This is a grave threat to public safety," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). "Concealed-weapons laws that work in rural states may not be suitable in urban areas. What's good for Iowa or Alaska may not be good for California or New York."
Feinstein was joined by fellow California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer in voting against the measure.
The issue poses a dilemma for Democrats who championed gun control in the 1980s and '90s but backed away from the issue after the 2000 election, when their party's presidential candidate, Al Gore, was believed to have lost support in rural states because of his gun control stance.
Party leaders strengthened their House and Senate majorities last year by winning seats in rural areas, and a number of newly elected Democratic senators were among those voting for the measure -- including Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Udall of Colorado, Tom Udall of New Mexico and Kay Hagan of North Carolina.
Wednesday's bill would have allowed a firearms owner from a state with less stringent standards for securing a permit to bring his or her weapon into a state with tougher requirements.
Los Angeles County's sheriff, for example, requires permit holders to undergo eight hours of training. Mississippi residents can get a concealed-weapon permit without training, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a gun control group.
Only a handful of states allow all out-of-state permit holders to carry weapons in their states. Others recognize permits only from some states, typically those with equivalent or higher standards. Illinois and Wisconsin do not issue permits for carrying a concealed weapon.
Kristen Rand, legislative director of the Violence Policy Center, said after the vote that the measure's defeat was a "victory for those who support a sane national gun policy."