Program Note: Tune in tonight to hear more from Jeffrey Toobin tonight on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.
CNN Senior Legal Analyst
Today the House gave Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) his way when it passed the gun measure he attached to the credit card bill. (The Senate passed it Tuesday.) The provision allows visitors to national parks to carry loaded weapons if the weapons would be legal in the rest of the state. Bottom line: Both plastic-carrying and pistol-packing Americans get new protections under the legislation headed to President Obama’s desk.
In a written statement, Sen. Coburn said he wanted park visitors to be able to defend themselves against crime. We’ll have to take him at his word, but we can’t help noting that National Parks have some of the lowest crime rates in the United States.
Supporters of the gun provision also argued the amendment eliminates confusion about where gun owners can carry their weapons. Here’s what they’re talking about: Starting in the 80s, park visitors were allowed to bring guns inside parks only if they were dismantled or unloaded and stored in a car trunk. That federal rule applied even in states where people could carry a loaded gun in other public places. In January, just before leaving office, President Bush overturned the ban on loaded weapons in national parks. But in March, a district judge struck down his move, pending a required environmental impact study. Today, the tables turned again, producing a high-five moment for President Bush and gun lobbyists.
So does this open the door for the gun lobby to push for even greater gains? Will hospitals and schools remain off-limits to loaded guns? It’s an open question. In a well-known case from 1994, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal law barring guns within a certain distance of schools. The conservative majority said these kinds of laws were a state issue, not a federal issue.
Complicating matters further, there is last year’s landmark gun control decision. Just shy of a year ago, the Supreme Court justices, in a 5-4 decision, ruled that a sweeping ban on handguns in Washington D.C. violated the Second Amendment right to bear arms. With that decision, the justices raised the question of whether any kind of gun control is constitutional under the court’s new reading of the Second Amendment.
The House passed the gun provision with the support of 174 Republicans and 105 Democrats. They’ve given us a lot to talk about tonight on 360.
So have their colleagues in the other chamber.
In an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 90-6, the Senate passed a measure to prevent Guantanamo detainees from coming to the U.S. (A similar amendment has already passed in the House.) It’s a blow to President Obama, who said he would close the Guantanamo Bay facility by Jan. 22, 2010. The Senate wants Mister Obama to spell out exactly what he will do with the detainees once the facility closes. At the same time, many are making it clear that they don’t want the detainees anywhere near their communities, ever. Period. Why not? According to Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the country isn’t set up to handle terrorist detainees. “We don’t have the facilities for it,” he said. “Nowhere does.”
Reality check: Convicted shoe bomber Richard Reid, blind sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman and Oklahoma City bombing mastermind Timothy McVeigh were all housed in U.S. prisons. What’s more, no one has even tried to escape from a super-maximum security U.S. prison. The math doesn’t add up either. Guantanamo Bay is the most expensive prison in the world, considering it’s in Cuba and we have to import every single quart of milk that goes there.
There are other reasons at play in this debate. Some believe that U.S. criminal courts aren’t adequate for trying suspected terrorists because of concerns about intelligence breaches. There are also concerns that once the detainees are here, they could sue the U.S government more easily. And many are worried about housing them with other prisoners, who might make willing terrorist recruits.
We’ll be talking about all of this tonight. See you then.
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