Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has quietly been preparing a series of gun rights amendments that he intends to offer to must-pass Senate bills this year, hoping to force Democrats to take tough votes and draw clear distinctions between the two parties heading into the midterms.
Coburn's effort, part of a broader GOP 2010 strategy, is still coming together, but the Oklahoma Republican said this week that at least one forum for the gun fight will be this year's appropriations measures. "We'll see gun amendments if we see appropriations bills," Coburn said.
Since Democrats took control of the Senate in January 2007, Republicans have increasingly used the amendment process to try to force vulnerable Democrats to take politically dicey votes and draw public attention to the parties' differences.
Coburn's amendment strategy, aides said, is a continuation of that effort and will include several gun rights provisions, as well as amendments targeting specific earmarks, systemic spending reductions and other issues.
Coburn "believes it's important to stay on offense, so he wants to have a Pattonesque approach to amendments," a veteran Senate GOP operative said.
This operative said that in the wake of Sen.-elect Scott Brown's (R-Mass.) win in last month's special election, Republicans believe it is critical that they try to make Democrats appear out of step with the public. They believe amendments on guns and spending in particular will help GOP Senators achieve that goal.
Coburn, an anti-earmark crusader known for his floor tactics, wants to "be even more aggressive ... [in exposing and highlighting] the extent to which Congress is disconnected from the public," the operative explained.
Republicans have seen some success in the past inserting gun rights provisions into Senate bills. The Senate Democratic Conference is not of one mindset on the issue; many of its more junior Members hail from conservative states and support gun rights. For instance, Coburn successfully tied up a public lands bill in 2008 by demanding that it include provisions repealing a ban on guns in national parks, and Republicans successfully inserted language into last year's District of Columbia voting rights legislation to rid the city of many of its gun-control laws.
Coburn said he will look to attach an amendment to a future appropriations bill based on legislation by Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), which would ensure that veterans who have suffered and recovered from head trauma do not have their Second Amendment rights revoked.
Currently, federal guidelines prohibit those veterans from owning a firearm — although Congress has never passed legislation explicitly limiting their gun ownership rights. "That's never been a law. It's a bureaucrat's rule. [Veterans] can't go hunting with [their] grandson. [They] can't go to a gun range," Coburn said.
Republicans tried to hotline the Burr bill earlier this year, but Democrats blocked it.
Coburn is also considering pursuing a concealed carry reciprocity amendment, similar to a measure that received 58 votes in the Senate last year, which would require states with concealed carry gun laws to recognize concealed weapons permits licensed by other states.
"Given the new makeup of the Senate, the conceal carry reciprocity bill, which received 58 votes last Congress, should be reconsidered," a Republican aide said.
Other amendments will likely include provisions to eliminate gun bans by the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service and Amtrak, and a provision to require that Attorney General Eric Holder ensure agencies like the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives keep track of their firearms.