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Columns : Guest Editorial

We Have Work to Do

May 01, 2004  |  by James J. Fotis

It's been a little over a decade since Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) and I worked together to draft federal legislation that would allow qualified off-duty and retired law enforcement officers to carry their firearms concealed in all 50 states. Since we first began the fight, we've seen steady growth in support for this legislation (H.R. 218), in Congress and among law enforcement officers. Now in the 108th Congress, the bill is backed by virtually every national organization representing rank-and-file law enforcement officers and has the Congressional cosponsorship of bipartisan supermajorities in the House and Senate.

So why isn't it law? That a good question and it's one that the staff of my organization, the Law Enforcement Alliance of America (LEAA) hears from law enforcement officers on a daily basis. So I'd like to take this opportunity to give you an update.

H.R. 218 (or S. 253 as it is known in the Senate) has passed several important milestones lately. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted overwhelmingly last April to pass the bill out of committee. Then in early March, it looked as if H.R. 218 might finally pass the Senate. The language of the cop carry bill was to be offered as an amendment to legislation that would have limited frivolous lawsuits against gun manufacturers. Both H.R. 218 and the lawsuit bill had strong bipartisan support.

But, on the very same day that the cop carry amendment was approved 90 to 8, two other "poison pill" amendments were offered that ultimately killed support for the lawsuit bill and caused the cop carry amendment to go nowhere. The poison pills were gun control amendments that squeaked by on the narrowest of vote margins. The vote was so close that Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who had previously missed every other Senate roll call vote of the year, flew back to Washington, D.C., to cast his votes, effectively killing the amendment. Kerry has argued that he is a supporter of the legislation; pointing to his cosponsorship of S. 253 and his vote for the cop carry amendment.  However, his votes make it clear that when it comes to choosing between gun control and H.R. 218, Kerry chooses gun control.

However, all is not lost. The demise of the cop carry amendment leaves us with a narrow window of opportunity to pass the legislation in this session of Congress. In the Senate, S. 253 needs to be brought to the floor for a full vote, or to be offered again as an amendment to other legislation. In the House, H.R. 218 continues to be stalled by Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.). Regardless of the Chairman's objections, 291 representatives have signed on as cosponsors of H.R. 218 at the time this article went to press. This is an overwhelming bipartisan majority, more than enough to affirm the common sense notion that H.R. 218 deserves a chance to be voted on.

There are a number of options left in the House. House Leadership can cause the legislation to move, Chairman Sensenbrenner can respect the wishes of the two-thirds of the House who have cosponsored the legislation and allow it a hearing and vote in Committee, or the bill could move through an amendment. But all of the political details aside, the picture for H.R. 218 is this: The bill is closer than ever before to becoming law and we must keep up the tidal wave of grassroots pressure in order to succeed.  State and local law enforcement groups, as well as individual officers must continue to contact their elected officials in Congress and demand that this life-saving legislation be given a vote.

Just like every election year, 2004 will feature countless politi­cians reaching out to police groups and individual officers, asking for their help. Let the politicians know how you feel about H.R. 218 when they come calling to you on the campaign trail.

James J. Fotis, a retired police officer from New York, serves as the executive director of the Law Enforcement Alliance of America (LEAA) www.leaa.org. 


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