WASHINGTON — Sen. Tom Coburn reignited the gun debate Wednesday as he tried to use a water project bill to ensure people could carry guns on land controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Coburn's amendment, similar to one he authored in 2009 for national parks, won a majority but fell four votes shy of the 60-vote threshold set for passage.
Coburn, R-Muskogee, argued that people visiting corps lakes in Oklahoma shouldn't worry about being victimized by criminals or wild animals. At a campsite in Oklahoma, he said, “you're vulnerable to the prey of people who are going to violate the law” against carrying guns.
Also, he said, a state's laws on carrying weapons should apply to corps property within the state so a person legally carrying a gun didn't become a criminal just by crossing onto corps land.
Coburn's amendment in 2009 was attached to a bill regarding credit cards and overturned a decades-old ban on carrying loaded firearms into national parks; that amendment applied only to land in states with concealed carry laws.
Coburn said Wednesday that violent crimes — including rape, murder, armed robbery and assault — were down at national parks since the amendment passed.
Statistics provided by the National Park Service don't support that contention. Robbery by firearm has been up slightly every year since 2009, though there are very few: 11 in 2009, 12 each in 2010 and 2011, and 14 in 2012. Incidents of aggravated assault with a firearm also rose in 2010 and 2011 before dropping last year, but, again, there were few: only 7 last year.
Charges of illegally possessing or carrying a firearm have been less every year than in 2009. There were 1,963 such charges in 2009 and 1,216 last year.
National Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst said the service does not have information about rapes and murders readily available and did not provide it to Coburn's office.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the author of the water projects bill that Coburn sought to amend, argued that Coburn's proposal didn't belong on the legislation.
“This is not a gun bill,” she said. “This is not a place to add these types of amendments … It isn't necessary; it isn't appropriate.”
Boxer also complained that Coburn's amendment would allow people to carry weapons at dams and locks and other infrastructure that could be vulnerable to terrorist acts. Coburn said a separate federal law prohibited carrying weapons at such critical structures and that his amendment would not affect that law.
The debate came less than a month after Senate leaders shelved a gun control bill. Coburn, who has been a fierce defender of Second Amendment rights, was heavily criticized in Oklahoma for voting to advance that bill past a procedural hurdle so it could be debated. Coburn later voted against a bipartisan proposal to expand background checks and others to ban certain weapons and ammunition clips.