A bill hailed by hunting groups as “the most important package of pro-sportsmen’s legislation in a generation” died on the Senate floor July 10 in what most observers say was a political fight designed to influence tight races in the 2014 mid-term elections.
The so-called “Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act” was forwarded to the floor in an 82 to 12 vote July 8 and was intended to increase access for hunters to public lands and help fund conservation efforts for shooting sports enthusiasts. The effort was the first major hunting-related bill in decades, and outdoor groups were hopeful its passage would help establish the clout of the nation’s over 40 million hunters.
But as the bill hit the floor of the Senate for a vote, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle attempted to attached amendments to the legislation that would spark a fierce debate over gun control that most analysts say would hurt Democrats fighting tough reelection campaigns in conservative states.
“It is disheartening to see America’s longstanding tradition of bipartisanship on sportsmen’s issues sacrificed to the continued gridlock preventing meaningful bipartisan legislation,” the National Shooting Sports Foundation said in a statement lamenting the bill’s death.
In the days leading up to the vote, lawmakers proposed a host of amendments to the bill, including tougher enforcement of so-called “straw purchasers” and bans on gun ownership for those accused of domestic violence. Republican Sens. Rand Paul (KY) and Ted Cruz (TX) proposed amendments repealing the District of Columbia’s semi-automatic rifle ban and making it easier for gun owners to take firearms and ammunition across state lines.
But in a last minute procedural move, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), barred amendments, effectively killing the bill. Analysts contend Reid’s tactic was designed to protect Democratic senators in tough races from debating gun control just months from the mid-term elections.
One of the bill’s key sponsors and a Democrat in a tight race in Republican-leaning North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan lamented the legislation’s failure, but vowed to keep the issue alive.
“I believe the Senate should have considered sportsmen-related amendments, including those dealing with gun issues important to sportsmen and women, and I am disappointed that politics prevented us from reaching an agreement this week,” Hagan said. “However, I will continue working with … my colleagues to find a path forward so that this bill that benefits hunters, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts in North Carolina and across the nation doesn't fall victim to political posturing.”