Amtrak could lose its pubic subsidy next year if it doesn't allow passengers to carry guns in checked baggage, after the Senate overwhelmingly passed an amendment to its fiscal 2010 Transportation-Housing spending bill today.
The amendment, proposed by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MA), would deny the heavily subsidized railroad $1.6 billion in taxpayer funds next year if it does not comply.
The proposal, approved by a 68-30 vote, seeks to give Amtrak riders rights comparable to those enjoyed by airline passengers, who are permitted to transport firearms provided that they declare they are doing so and that the arms are unloaded and in a securely locked container.
"Americans should not have their second amendment rights restricted for any reason, particularly if they choose to travel on America's federally subsidized rail line," said Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., who made the proposal.
Wicker says it isn't fair that sportsmen cannot use the taxpayer-supported railroad for hunting trips.
Majority Whip Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill), according to CQ.com (subscription only), protested that the railroad isn't up to the task.
“Amtrak doesn’t have the security infrastructure, the processes or the trained personnel in place to ensure that checked firearms would not be lost, damaged, stolen or misused,” he said. “I know the political force behind gun amendments, but this just goes too far."
Amtrak instituted its current no firearm policy after the 2004 Madrid train bombings in Spain, which killed 191 people and wounded another 1,841. Prior to 9-11, train passengers could carry guns on board if they were "separately secured in locked baggage or carrying cases," reports the AP. After 9-11, Amtrak restricted its firearm policy and then completely banned firearms after the Madrid attack.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), who wrote spending bill, said that if Amtrak did not receive its annual subsidy, it "will shut down."
The House-passed version of the bill, however, does not contain the firearm provision, so the competing versions of the bill must be reconciled in conference.
♦ Photo of passengers boarding Amtrak train at Union Station in Washington, DC, by alykat/Flickr