Bloomberg and Dems Blast Congressional Plan to Let Guns on Amtrak

Mayor Bloomberg teamed up with two Democratic members of Congress yesterday to blast the Senate for its vote in favor of forcing Amtrak to allow guns and ammunition in passengers’ checked baggage.

350.0.1.0.16777215.0.stories.large.2009.09.20.McCarthy.jpgMayor Bloomberg, far left, with members of Congress at yesterday’s press conference. Photo: Epoch Times

Bloomberg, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) were joined by the Democratic mayors of Philadelphia, Jersey City, and Trenton, along with NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, at a Penn Station press conference intended to spotlight Republican senators’ successful bid — with the help of 27 Dems — to deny Amtrak any U.S. DOT funds next year unless the train network accepts firearms in baggage.

Local reporters found Bloomberg unabashedly critical of the Senate’s move:

“If anyone in Congress thinks the threat of terrorist attacks on trains have gone away, they are mistaken,” the mayor said. Bloomberg said that the Amtrak security was already pretty lax, and if
the new bill passes, there wouldn’t be anything keeping someone from
carrying multiple assault weapons in their baggage.

“And the American people will blame the Senate if a terrorist attack
does occur,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the second amendment
and the right to bear arms, but everything to do with keeping
passengers safe.”

The Amtrak amendment is not the first time this summer that Bloomberg, who is running for a third term this fall on the GOP and Independent tickets, has weighed in on the issue of gun possession. The mayor helped mobilize opposition to a July amendment from Sen. John Thune (D-SD) that would have relaxed rules governing the transport of concealed weapons across state lines.

Nor is yesterday’s press conference the first gauntlet thrown over the Amtrak amendment, which would force the train network to significantly strengthen its security screening process without providing any federal aid to help with such a move.

On Thursday a gun-rights group in Washington state accused Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) of showing "bigotry" against gun owners by voting against the amendment — a charge aimed at pressuring Democrats into keeping the provision in the final version of the 2010 U.S. DOT spending bill.

The final word may not come until next month at the earliest, when negotiators from the Senate and House, which did not take up the guns-on-Amtrak question, will unveil the merged version of their two chambers’ transportation bills.

  • Omri

    Glad the see the country is tackling this vitally important issue.

  • What are law-abiding gun-owners supposed to do? Drive?

  • BikingViking

    Gun’s and ammo are already allowed as checked baggage on Planes, there’s a bunch of paperwork you have to fill out and since no one actually has access to them it’s not a big deal. They’re doing a mountain/molehill thing here. It’s perfectly reasonable to think that small stations like Port Kent NY could be a stop for hunters who don’t want to drive gas guzzling pick ups across the state.

  • I agree with Kaja and the Viking.

    I’m pro-gun-control, but the more I think about it, the more I see this as a red herring. Bloomberg gives the image of some Colin Ferguson wannabe pulling “multiple assault weapons” out of his bag on the 5:15 out of Trenton, but we’re talking checked baggage here. That means that it’s locked up in the baggage car, and the owners won’t be able to open it until they get to their final destination.

    So if the law passes, there will still be something keeping someone from carrying mutiple assault weapons onto a train: the law against carrying weapons on Amtrak. Why isn’t that enough? Why does everyone in that press conference in that Epoch Times article act like people are going to be boarding trains with guns on their hips?

    Meanwhile, how many people are there who drive or fly instead of taking the train, because they want to take their guns someplace? Don’t we want them on the train instead of polluting the air and running people down on the highways? Hey, I’d love to see them get rid of their guns, but banning guns in checked baggage hasn’t done much in that area over the past forty years, right?

    There are only two ways I can think of that this would make things easier for terrorists. First, someone could retrieve their checked bag at Penn Station and start shooting up the place, but you’d think they would have procedures in place to make sure they have the proper NYC permits at the bag check. What do they do at La Guardia, anyway?

    Second, someone could put a timed or remote-control detonator in with their checked box of ammo. If they timed it right they could blow up a baggage cart on a platform full of people. That’s about the worst thing I could think of.

  • Omri

    It’s perfectly reasonable for people to check in luggage with locked firearms and transport them by Amtrak.

    It’s also perfectly reasonable for Amtrak to say they don’t want the hassle, since their normal procedures do not involve securing the luggage, and since their trains are not heavily staffed.

    What’s not reasonable is for Congress to generate so much damned hot air about this non-issue.

  • Jason A.

    I couldn’t care one way or the other about the guns but… Of all the mass transit issues Congress could tackle, THIS is the one that gets its knickers in a bunch?!?!?!

  • As noted above, you can check an unloaded firearm on a plane, why not a train? As long as it is checked baggage, I don’t see the issue. Why put more regulations on rail than airlines? We need to be making it as maximally convenient as possible to take the train instead of a plane.

  • clever-title

    Odd – politicians and mainstream media often berate the blogosphere for inciting intense argumentation over trivial issues, while the commenters here have calm, reasoned discussion over whether this is a significant issue at all… and the politicans and major media are in a lather.

  • Boris

    I can see it as a contentious issue because it is an unfunded mandate. Airlines get tons of money for maintaining security; Amtrak does not.

  • The Opoponax

    This is such a red herring designed to either cripple Amtrak with costs or further reduce demand for service.

    Here’s how I see it: one of the reasons I like taking the train, even though it takes longer and costs the same, is that it’s a very relaxed mode of transportation. You don’t have to go through any security rituals. You’re free to move about the train during the journey. You can bring as much stuff as you want on board, and I’m pretty sure that on trains with checked luggage, there are few if any limitations in terms of quantity.

    When a system like that has to accommodate people’s constitutional “right” to check firearms in their luggage, suddenly you have to introduce security screenings (at least of checked baggage) at the stations. You have to control who can check how many bags. You have to control what goes on at the stations and in the cars much more tightly, and probably have a much tighter leash on personnel, too. Suddenly a relaxing mode of transport becomes every bit as stressful as the airlines. Which reduces the demand.

    And thus, wheee, no more passenger rail service in America!

  • “When a system like that has to accommodate people’s constitutional ‘right’ to check firearms in their luggage, suddenly you have to introduce security screenings (at least of checked baggage) at the stations.”

    Except you don’t suddenly have to do those things. That position, Amtrak’s position, makes no sense. It is their current, total ban on firearms that begs for ‘screening’—universal passenger search without cause—in order to have meaning. Allowing passengers to declare locked and unloaded firearms reduces the rationale for searching. This was their policy for decades, and it was fine. I’m sorry that the Senate is playing political games with Amtrak, but I’m more sorry that Amtrak (and Bloomberg) have taken the bait and are now retaliating with the most hackneyed, illogical fear mongering I’ve seen in a while.

  • clever-title

    You have to control who can check how many bags. You have to control what goes on at the stations and in the cars much more tightly, and probably have a much tighter leash on personnel, too. Suddenly a relaxing mode of transport becomes every bit as stressful as the airlines. Which reduces the demand.

    Amtrak doesn’t charge fees like the airlines for bags, but they have similar baggage rules (at least at NY Penn). Weight, size, and number limits are enforced just as rigorously as any airline (I had the fun of repacking my bags on the station floor to shift 5 lbs). My fault for not weighing my bags, but the point is that Amtrak is checking those things now.

    As for the other points, like Amtrak needing to control access to trains in stations, and make sure their employees aren’t criminals — I certainly hope they are doing so now. Leaving baggage unsecured is unacceptable whether or not firearms are in the baggage cars. If stations and rolling stock aren’t properly secured now, what’s preventing someone from placing a bomb in a baggage car?

  • “what’s preventing someone from placing a bomb in a baggage car?”

    The same feature of civilization that keeps all forms of antisocial violence in check: the criminal justice system. What ‘s preventing your subway car on the way to penn station from being bombed? Nothing of any substance. It is not possible for government to physically prevent all the terrible ways to murder. And yet, they do a far better job of deterring them than they do of controlling careless carnage on the highways. As transportation advocates we should be unequivocally proud of the very low, overall, actual risk factors of rail.

  • clever-title

    I’d also put stock in the belief that only a tiny percentage of the population wants to hurt others (and that applies equally to bombings or someone stealing a gun out of a baggage car), but yes, I agree that the overall safety record of rail transport is noteworthy. After all, a fatal rail wreck is unusual enough that it will be national news, but a fatal car crash is not.

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