Politics & Policy

Specter’s Second Amendment Surprise

Chairman Specter could be as antigun as he wanted to be.

The same Arlen Specter who awaits his expected coronation as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee has a long record of betraying both his party and America’s gun owners.

To hear Specter talk, his fellow Republicans count on him. They do. Senate Republicans count on Arlen Specter to vote their way only until his vote is absolutely critical to the issue at hand. When he is most needed on the political battlefield, Arlen is either AWOL or preening in the enemy’s tent about casting a difficult vote of conscience, to the applause of CBS, NBC, and the Washington Post.

Proof? The good people of Pennsylvania like to hunt and they think highly of the Second Amendment. Arlen Specter knows he can’t always vote with anti-gunners like Ted Kennedy and remain in office. So he saves his anti-gun votes for when they are most needed–as on July 20, 1989.

That day, the Senate Judiciary Committee was voting on a broad ban of certain rifles and shotguns. Arlen Specter was not present. Excuses were offered. At the last minute, in came Arlen Specter, only to announce he was not prepared to vote on the issue, thus allowing the gun ban to pass by a single vote.

Wayne LaPierre of the NRA told the Erie Morning News, accurately, that “basically, Specter just decided to be absent.” Had Specter voted against the bill in committee, that would have killed it then and there.

Specter’s real views on gun ownership were made crystal clear in the days following September 11, 2001. Even antigunners such as California Senator Barbara Boxer saw the need to allow airline pilots to once again carry handguns if they chose to do so, if only to provide a last line of defense against terrorist hijackers. On September 6, 2002, Arlen Specter was one of just six senators to vote against arming airline pilots.

As a lame-duck senator and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter could be as antigun as he wished to be in deciding the committee’s agenda. That post will also allow him the power to decide which, if any, pro-Second Amendment judges attain the federal bench.

Senate Republicans, many of whom owe their seats to pro-gun voters, would do well to tell Arlen Specter he has no shot of chairing the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Larry Pratt is executive director of Gun Owners of America.

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