GOP senator wants guns allowed on Amtrak

On gun control, Democrats' long retreat means fight on home turf.

Published April 2, 2009 6:30PM (EDT)

Over the last ten years, there are few major political issues that haven’t cut both ways at some point. Democrats went down to defeat over the Iraq war in 2002, for example, but rode it to success in 2006. But in one debate, the Democrats have staged a long strategic retreat, backing further and further away from gun control.

As Alex wrote two years ago, many Democrats chalked up Al Gore’s narrow losses in 2000 in West Virginia, Ohio, and Tennessee to his support for gun control. Then, gun control opponents like Howard Dean and then Jim Webb became darlings of party activists. Still, for the most part, the turnaround hasn't been complete -- it's not like congressional liberals have started opposing the assault weapons ban. It's just that the party has chosen not to emphasize gun control as an issue lately, or to fight for it.

There's a side effect to this. Republicans can put Democrats -- who would really rather ignore talk about guns entirely -- in an uncomfortable spot by bringing gun bills to a vote. That’s what the GOP was doing when it recently used the bill to give Washington, D.C. a vote in the House as a way to weigh in on the capital’s gun control laws. And, Politico’s Glenn Thrush notes today, that appears to be what Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., is up to with a new proposal to permit the transport of firearms on Amtrak.

It’s hard to imagine a better symbol of how much ground the Democrats have yielded on guns. Guns on Amtrak, the chosen transportation method of Vice President Biden? What's next, crossbows on the El?

Says Wicker, in a release, “Under current Amtrak policy, a lawful citizen who wants to take the train for a hunting trip could not because they are prohibited from storing a gun in any checked luggage.”

But will passengers be allowed to shoot buffalo from moving trains?

By Gabriel Winant

Gabriel Winant is a graduate student in American history at Yale.

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