A bipartisan bundle of hunting and fishing legislation could get shot down by a partisan battle over gun control.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has drafted an amendment limiting the circumstances under which veterans can be denied access to firearms because of mental illness, a proposal the Senate's No. 2 Democrat said would prompt a response from advocates of stricter gun control.
"If we open this to a gun debate, we're going to hear both sides," Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin told reporters Tuesday.
"We're working on it," the Illinois Democrat said when asked about drafting an amendment favoring more stringent policy regarding firearms. "Mr. Coburn has decided he wants an amendment. He wants to expand the carrying of firearms across America. Many of us want to reduce ... the firearm violence across America."
An effort by Durbin and the Democrats to push the issue comes as Chicago officials are grappling with a new wave of gun violence over the weekend. But the fight is heating up given that Coburn is just one of the Republicans with pro-gun amendments.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, for instance, has an amendment that would allow expanded interstate transport of ammunition and firearms.
And the pro-gun group Gun Owners of America is claiming support from Cruz and other Republicans John Cornyn of Texas, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah to flood the bill with amendments friendly to their cause.
"Senator Cornyn is prepared to offer a GOA-supported amendment to allow national concealed carry reciprocity. Senator Wicker has told us he wants to allow guns on the Army Corps of Engineers’ land," the group said in a press release. "Senator Lee has told GOA he wants to change the Senate rules to prohibit any anti-gun amendments in the Senate. And Senators Cruz and Paul have 'tons of amendments,' including reciprocity, a restoration of gun rights for 175,000 veterans, and a shutdown of Eric Holder’s Operation Choke Point program (that is designed to close gun stores by cutting off their credit)."
Durbin had warned he would oppose amendments that aim to weaken gun laws.
"If, during debate on this bill, Senators try to add provisions to weaken the laws on the books when it comes to keeping our citizens safe from gun violence, I will strongly oppose those provisions, but for purposes of today’s procedural vote, I support moving forward on this bipartisan legislation," Durbin cautioned in a statement Monday.
Sen. Kay Hagan, a North Carolina Democrat in a hotly contested re-election race, introduced the underlying bill with components drafted by senators from both sides of the aisle. Coburn was the only Republican to vote against limiting debate on taking up the measure Monday evening. He was joined by 11 Democrats who have generally favored tighter controls on firearm purchasing or ownership.
"In putting our bill together, Sen. Murkowski and I tried to pull the best ideas from members of both of our parties. However, I do recognize that members on both sides of the aisle have ideas for how to strengthen this bill," Hagan said on the floor Monday. "It is my hope we can take up, debate, and vote on sportsmen's-related amendments this week. I encourage my colleagues who have amendments to file them and come to the floor to discuss them."
Hagan may not get her wish — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., may once again block senators from offering amendments. That procedural move has doomed numerous bipartisan bills this Congress.
That would be just fine with Gun Owners of America, which dismissed the bill as a "fake 'pro-gun' bill designed to re-elect endangered anti-gun Democrats up in 2014 in pro-gun states," and the "Harry Reid Preservation Act."