Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy On the Thune Amendment
U.S. SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY
CONTACT: Office of Senator Leahy, 202-224-4242
Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy
On the Thune Amendment, No. 1618
July 22, 2009
When the Supreme Court handed down its decision in District of Columbia v. Heller I applauded the Court for affirming what so many Americans already believe: The Second Amendment protects an individual right to own a firearm. The Heller decision reaffirmed and strengthened our Bill of Rights.
Vermont has some of the least restrictive gun laws in the country. One does not need a permit to carry a concealed firearm, and citizens of Vermont are by and large trusted to conduct themselves responsibly and safely. In my experience, Vermonters do just that. Like many Vermonters, I grew up with firearms and have enormous respect and appreciation for the freedoms that the Second Amendment protects. Like other protections in by our Bill of Rights, the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms is one that I cherish.
As a prosecutor, I protected the rights of Vermonters to possess firearms. As a Senator, I have carefully considered Federal efforts to regulate firearms, and always with an eye toward the burdens it may impose on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding American citizens.
Justice Scalia’s decision for the Supreme Court in Heller acknowledged that some reasonable regulation can and does coexist with the Second Amendment, just as it does for other rights in our Bill of Rights. The States have traditionally played the strongest role in regulating firearms based on State and local concerns. Most firearms regulation is decided within States as an issue of State police power. This is how it should be.
I feel strongly that the principles of federalism demand that the Federal Government minimize its intrusion into the policy judgments made by State and local officials, citizens and state legislators, especially in matters of public safety. I believe this is true whether the Federal Government seeks to restrict the activities of Americans, or it seeks to second guess what State officials have decided is proper regulation. Whenever the Federal Government imposes its will some citizens may be happy, but others will be disappointed. This is particularly true when such Federal action involves matters of safety and police power at the State level. The Federal Government plays a role in regulating the importation of firearms and has in providing a framework for interstate commerce.
Senator Thune’s amendment imposes the policy judgments of the Federal Government on the States. Just as I would vigorously oppose any Federal effort to restrict the ability of a State to allow its citizens to carry firearms in a concealed manner, I oppose this effort to second-guess the judgments of State and local officials across the country in relation to permitting people to carry a concealed firearm. Just as I would resist Federal legislation that prohibited States from entering reciprocity agreements with each other to honor one another’s concealed carry permits, I do not believe the Federal Government ought to be forcing States to treat citizens from other States differently than it treats its own on this public safety matter. The Thune amendment represents the Federal Government intruding into the gun laws of the States. It could even result in some States repealing their concealed carry laws to avoid the impact of the Federal law.
What works in Vermont does not necessarily work in New York City. And what works in New York City would not get a warm welcome in Vermont. That is the beauty of our Federal system. When it comes to public safety and police power, the Federal Government ought to respect the judgments of the States, their citizens, elected officials, and law enforcement agencies.