Gun rights advocates have found a sweet spot in Democratic-dominated Washington, and they are using it to aggressively push legislation.
Their latest victory came yesterday when the House passed a bill that will allow people to bring concealed and loaded guns into national parks. Advocates won with the help of moderate Democrats.
Those Democrats, many from states in the South and Midwest, joined nearly all House Republicans to back yesterday's provision, which has passed in the Senate and could become law this week. The gun bill passed 279 to 147 in the House with the help of 105 Democratic votes; 145 Democrats opposed the bill.
The legislation was the latest defeat for gun-control advocates, who had expected more success with a Democratic president and Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress.
The bill to grant the District of Columbia a voting member in the House remains stalled after Senate Republicans attached a provision to the legislation that effectively would repeal many of Washington's gun restrictions.
Yesterday's provision, originally sponsored by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), would allow gun owners to bring the weapons into national parks and wildlife refuges as long as they are permitted by the laws of the state in which the park is located. The bill codifies a change the Bush administration had sought in its final months, but a federal judge blocked the effort in March.
Obama administration officials had not sought to overturn the judge's ruling. But Coburn, who had long sought the change, inserted his amendment this month on credit card legislation that is one of Obama's top priorities. The move effectively forced Democrats to vote on the gun provision if they wanted to pass the credit card bill.
A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.), one of the Democratic backers of the bill, said Reid viewed the bill as defending the Second Amendment.
A coalition of groups that included the Fraternal Order of Police and the Association of National Park Rangers slammed the bill, saying it will "increase the risk of poaching, vandalism of historic park treasures and threats to park visitors and staff."
The House yesterday passed the larger legislation, which imposes new rules on credit card companies, 361 to 64, and Obama could sign it as soon as tomorrow.
After Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. suggested this year that the Obama administration would seek to reinstate a ban on assault weapons, a bloc of 65 House Democrats, many of whom voted for yesterday's legislation, wrote to Holder saying they would oppose his effort.
Democratic aides privately admitted many Democrats feel pressure to back bills on gun legislation or face political heat from the National Rifle Association, particularly in more rural districts. Top Democratic aides in both chambers plan to meet soon to develop a strategy to block pro-gun provisions on Democratic bills.
"We have a Democratic president, a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate, and we're passing more gun legislation than when there was a Republican in the White House," said Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), a gun-control advocate. "It's disappointing."
Gun rights advocates defended yesterday's bill as an effort to give gun owners the same rights on national park land that they have everywhere else.
Advocates said they will look to find other ways to push Democrats into backing gun rights measures.
"The lessons of 1994 have not been forgotten," said Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, referring to the year President Bill Clinton signed an assault weapons ban into law. "The Democrats lost control of Congress after passing a gun ban."