[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/07/22/barrasso.bloomberg.art.jpg caption="Sen. John Barrasso (L) and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R)."]
It's one of those issues considered a third rail in American politics – gun control – and it's taking center stage on Capitol Hill. After some really heated debate, senators are scheduled to vote today on a measure that would let people carry concealed weapons across state lines.
It's known as the Thune Amendment and was introduced by Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota. A co-sponsor of the amendment, Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), and Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I-NY), who opposes the measure, spoke to John Roberts on CNN’s “American Morning” Wednesday.
John Roberts: We know this is a popular measure in Wyoming. You are a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association. But as a practical matter, can you tell us why it's good public policy to allow people to carry concealed weapons across state lines?
John Barrasso: Right now people in 48 different states can have a license to carry a concealed weapon, but people travel. We have truck drivers on our roads, people traveling for vacation in their vehicles. And if you have a license, you've gone through the process, you should be able to use that license in other states. It should apply just like a driver's license. The people that are getting concealed weapon permits – those are basically the law-abiding citizens. The criminals are not in any way going down to the courthouse, getting fingerprinted for the purpose of getting a license to carry a concealed weapon. These are the best citizens, not the worst and I think this is in keeping with our Second Amendment rights – our rights to own and bear arms.
Roberts: Here's one of the issues. The requirements for a concealed carry permit vary from state to state. There are 19 states that require a gun safety program, but under this measure you could, say, get a concealed carry permit in the state of Mississippi, which requires no training at all and then travel to Dallas where permit applicants must go to at least ten hours of training. You're taking different requirements and kind of leveling the playing field at the federal level. Isn't this a matter of states' rights here?
Barrasso: Well you have different requirements for driver’s licenses as well in terms of at what age they get them and if they need driver’s education and all those sorts of things. Certainly we want to make sure that there is safety involved with people who are carrying concealed weapons. I think training is a very important part of that. But the law of the state where that person happens to be at the time are the laws that apply in terms of if you're allowed to carry a gun into a bar or into a restaurant. It's the home state law that applies. State rights continues to apply.
Roberts: There are also concerns, though, that states that ban concealed carry by people who have committed certain crimes might have to accept permits from states where they don't have those restrictions. Senator Charles Schumer from the state of New York said, “Right now you walk down the streets in New York or Nassau County or Westchester County, you can have the solace of knowing that if someone has a gun on them they've gone through a rigorous background check. After this law you can have no such comfort.” What do you say to that?
Barrasso: The Department of Justice has shown that criminals will avoid actually committing crimes if they think the victim may be carrying a concealed weapon – is armed. So I think that carrying a concealed weapon is a sign of self-defense, self-protection. And I think it actually lowers crime. People are afraid this is going to have blood in the streets and everyone is going to be armed and it’s going to be the Wild West all over again. You're not going to see any of those things.
I have a concealed weapon permit in Wyoming. I’ve had it for over a dozen years and have it with me now and I will tell you this is the way to go. The vote is going to be at high noon today. It needs 60 votes to pass in the Senate. And for people that are for gun control – they're going to be against this. But for people who are for the Second Amendment constitutional rights of American citizens to own and bear arms – they should support this.
John Roberts: To Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York – one of hundreds of mayors across the country who are totally against this. You took out an ad today in "USA Today," against this amendment. What do you think of what Senator Barrasso just said?
Michael Bloomberg: Well, number one, I think the senator is wrong. The Second Amendment has restrictions. The Supreme Court ruled clearly that reasonable restrictions by states are perfectly constitutional. Number two, there's no evidence that if you have a gun you're safer – quite the contrary. If you have a gun at home you’re something like 20 times more likely to have somebody in your house killed – you or one of your family members. So that's just not true. The other thing that the senator I think is wrong on, and hopefully I get a chance someday to try to convince him, is that Wyoming shouldn't be subject to New York state laws and we're going in that direction.
If you trample on states’ rights in this the next thing is one of the laws we have, we think is appropriate for our citizens, is going to be forced on the people of Wyoming. I don't think the people of Wyoming want that. What this law is all about is trampling on reasonable regulations. And if the senator’s position was well thought out and accepted by all the Senate, they would have a straight up and down vote on this. What they're doing is they're holding hostage our young men and women's safety, the young men and women who are overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan, fighting for our country. And what the senator and his people have done is put this as a rider on the defense bill and said, oh well you can't vote against our soldiers – the defense bill. Therefore this comes along.
Roberts: Let me ask you this question, Mr. Mayor. New York City has some of the strictest gun laws in the country. Obviously there is still a problem with guns in this city. But if you buy a gun in Vermont you don't even need a permit to carry a concealed weapon. That person could, under this new measure, come here to New York City with a concealed weapon. Do you want them walking around here?
Bloomberg: The practical aspect of what this has done is it makes it easier for traffickers of weapons. Right now, if you bring a gun into New York State – we can arrest you – if you don't have a license here. If you have a license in another state, however, now you will be able to bring in a gun and resell it here. So it's much more dangerous…
Roberts: Or as we said in Vermont you don't even need a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
Bloomberg: But the trouble is you're going to get a lot more guns in the streets and we have police officers in this state, in our city, who put their lives on the line to protect us. I'm going to have a meeting later on this morning with … a woman … her daughter was shot at Virginia Tech. We're going to have Jeremiah Healy there, the mayor of Jersey City. Today would have been the 38th birthday of the police officer who yesterday passed away, shot by a gun. We just got to stop this chaos. What's right for the people of Wyoming isn't necessarily right for the people of New York and vice versa. But we have to protect our policemen. We have to protect our citizens. We can't have all these guns. And it's reasonable to have each state make their own laws.
Roberts: This year we seem to be seeing a political shift in terms of gun legislation. Earlier this year guns were allowed into national parks. Do you think you're going to be able to defeat this measure? As we said, you and some 450 other mayors across the country took out this ad in "USA Today." Senator Schumer admits the vote is going to be tight. Do you think you can defeat it?
Bloomberg: Look, it's the mayors that have to explain to the loved ones when the police officer is not going to come home and say your daddy or your spouse or your son or your daughter is not coming back. Mayors understand what guns do. Senators seem to be in an ivory tower and don't quite get it. What's appropriate in urban areas is very different than what's appropriate in rural areas. We have to make sure that we can each pick for ourselves. That's what the Constitution is really about. When they argue constitutional protections, the constitutional protection of the people of New York to set their own rules is just as important as the constitutional protection for the people of Wyoming to set theirs.
But you just can't have this continuous battle again and again of trying to get more guns in the hands of people who probably shouldn't have them. There are states that allow habitual drunks to get licenses. There are states that allow people with lots of misdemeanors to get them. There are states that allow people – the federal government says can't fly, they’re too dangerous to let them on airplanes, but states will give them carry permits. Those people are going to go to your state wherever you live and it’s just wrong.