In the minutes before the Senate barely voted down an amendment that would have allowed gun owners to carry concealed weapons across state lines, Chuck Schumer delivered an impassioned speech on the Senate floor urging his colleagues not to back the measure.
"This amendment will incite a dangerous race to the bottom in our nation's gun laws," he said.
It was like watching the Ghost of Schumer Past.
As a member of the House of Representatives, Schumer was a proudly outspoken big-city advocate of gun control who played a key role in the drafting and passing of the Brady Bill and the Assault Weapons Ban. But when he got to the Senate, representing an area much larger than Brooklyn (where guns meant violent crime, not hunting), he became considerably less vocal in his advocacy of gun control, while still maintaining his positions.
Schumer's reluctance to talk about guns as a senator also reflected a broad tactical shift among national Democrats, who had decided that championing gun control was an electoral loser.
But Schumer's more reserved posture changed this week in the face of the amendment offered by John Thune of South Dakota that would have allowed gun owners from gun-friendly states to ignore the tough gun-control laws in places like New York and carry concealed weapons across state lines. In a statement earlier in the week Schumer called the amendment "a bridge too far" and said it "could endanger the safety of millions of Americans."
Schumer also made the more conservative-friendly argument that gun laws should be the jurisdiction of local governments, and not Congress, calling attention to the gun lobby's past states-rights arguments about gun control.
In the end, Schumer and a small bloc of liberal senators, including Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Dick Durbin of Illinois, managed to prevent the amendment to the annual defense authorization bill from gaining the 60 votes necessary for passage under Senate rules. The vote was 58-39 with 20 moderate Democrats and all but two Republicans in favor.
It should also be noted that New York's junior Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, followed Schumer's lead and also voted against the amendment. But whereas Schumer's forceful opposition to the amendment was a return to form, Gillibrand's opposition marked another step in her evolution from gun-rights advocate to a senator more in tune with the liberal voters in New York City, for whom she may have to compete in a competitive primary.
"This legislation would have posed a serious public safety risk to New York and states around the country," she said in a statement after the amendment was defeated. "And I am pleased that our colleagues have taken the right course and voted to defeat this amendment."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has taken the lead in New York and nationally in advocating for an issue that many Democrats have abandoned, issued a statement in his capacity as chair of the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
"I want to thank all the mayors who stood up and spoke out," he said. "And all the Senators who opposed this intrusive and destructive bill, particularly Senators Schumer and Gillibrand."