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By Sarah Foster
Posted 1:00 AM Eastern
December 4, 2010

New Policy Goes Into Effect on Bill of Rights Day

WASHINGTON -- Thanks to legislation authored by Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., in 2009, passengers will again be allowed to
transport firearms and ammunition on Amtrak trains. The new policy goes into effect Dec. 15, exactly one year after the legislation repealing the decade-long ban was signed into law.

The measure lifts post-9/11 restrictions that Amtrak had imposed, and allows passengers to check firearms in the train’s baggage compartment (including handguns, starter pistols, rifles and shotguns) and up to 11 pounds of ammunition.

The date was not deliberately chosen but is highly appropriate. December 15 is officially Bill of Rights Day, and the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees “the right of the people to keep and bear arms,” is what the senator and his allies are attempting to salvage.

"This provision protects Americans' Second Amendment right and is a small, but important, step in eliminating bias against gun owners,” said Wicker.

Wicker explained in an earlier statement that his intention is to assure that passengers on the government-owned train system have the same rights as travelers on commercial airlines.

“This is an important victory for sportsmen and gun owners across the country, and it affirms congressional support of the Second Amendment,” he said. “Airline passengers in our country are allowed to transport firearms in secure, checked baggage when declared during the check-in process. Law-abiding gun owners who choose to travel on America’s taxpayer-subsidized rail line should be given the same right.”

Prior to the 2001 terrorist attacks, passengers could check their guns on trains, but concerns about possible future attacks led to tightened restrictions. Following the 2004 Madrid train bombings, a total gun ban went into effect.

Wicker’s Amtrak amendment began in 2009 as an attachment to the transportation spending bill, and passed the Senate with strong bipartisan support. Twenty-seven Democrats, including Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., joined all 40 Republicans and one independent senator in voting for the amendment.

It was then included in a year’s-end spending measure that combined six of the unfinished appropriations bills needed to fund the government in 2010.

Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, the grassroots lobbying group which spearheaded the campaign to get the bill passed in the Senate, discussed the measure with NewsWithViews.

Pratt emphasized that although a passenger can now transport guns, this is not a “carry-on” law and restrictions that Amtrak developed during the year-long administrative rule-making process makes transporting guns difficult for many travelers.

“You have to declare to Amtrak at least 24 hours ahead of time that you’re going to be doing this; you have to bring your gun in a locked, hard-sided case and the case must be kept in the baggage compartment,” Pratt explained, then added the kicker: “A lot of trains don’t have baggage cars and a lot of train stations don’t have checked baggage service.”

NOTE: Amtrak has posted the specific rules on its website here.

Indeed, fewer than 5 percent of Amtrak trains are equipped with a checked baggage car; and of the 500 train stations to which Amtrak trains travel, less than one-third have checked baggage service, according to Steve Kulm, media director for Amtrak, as reported by the Daily Caller, a political news-site.

Kulm said that travelers who wish to bring a firearm need to be traveling from a station that has checked baggage service to a station with checked baggage service.

Because so few trains have baggage cars and relatively few train stations have checked baggage service, Pratt regards the rules as unduly restrictive and suggests they were drafted with the intention of limiting the number of people able to take advantage of the newly restored gun transport policy.

Nonetheless, for Pratt the policy, though flawed, is a major improvement.

“People traveling by train – after jumping through a number of unnecessary hoops -- will be able to have their firearms with them as baggage,” he said. “Up until now it’s been total prohibition, even in the baggage car.”

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GOA lobbyist John Velleco said in a news release that the organization will continue to work on loosening concealed carry restrictions nationwide, making it more likely that concealed carry permit holders will eventually be allowed to carry firearms while traveling by train.

"Ultimately, firearms owners make travel safer not only for themselves, but for non-gun owners as well. The best deterrent to a criminal attack is an armed citizen,” he said.

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Sarah Foster is a political researcher and freelance writer.

Sarah can be reached at:










The date was not deliberately chosen but is highly appropriate. December 15 is officially Bill of Rights Day, and the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution...