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Conservative Groups Furious that Begich Eased Gun Restrictions

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Conservative Groups Furious that Begich Eased Gun Restrictions-cover

As far as solvency goes, the US Post Office has seen better days. Currently, the USPS is staring down giant annual deficits and have reached their borrowing limit. Congress’s bizarre and crippling 2006 law, which forces the Post Office to front-fund retirement benefits three-quarters of a century out, has eliminated any hopes of cutting a path to prosperity. According to the New Republic, the requirement turned what should have been a $1 billion profit last quarter into a loss of $354 million. “We’re spending in excess $2 billion a year just maintaining empty buildings right now,” Republican Senator Tom Coburn summarized.

On February 6, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs passed a massive, 227 page omnibus reform package aimed at getting the beleaguered agency back on its feet. According to the bipartisan bill’s sponsors, senators Tom Carper (D-DE) and Tom Coburn (R-OK), the legislation will return the agency to a more financially stable footing. Instead of paying retirement benefits 75 years in advance, the USPS would be refunded the $6 billion it has already overpaid and would, in the future, only require payments based on what the Postal Service currently owes. Also, the proposal would introduce a new in-office health care program. Current postage rates, which Congress temporarily increased, would be made permanent, and Saturday service would cease to be.

The bill is stacked items for all sides to find both laudable and objectionable. One best characterized as the latter didn’t make it into the final bill, which has made Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) upset, and many conservatives seething. On the receiving end of much of the ire is Alaska Senator Mark Begich (D), just in time for a reelection year.

Paul’s amendment to a piece of legislation aimed at fixing the Post Office’s massive financial problems: More guns!

The Kentucky Republican decided that the prescription for returning the USPS to solvency was, in part, repealing the prohibition of firearms inside Post Offices enacted in 1972.

“I am very concerned that there are people who inadvertently can come afoul of the [current] law who simply have concealed carry permit or just were going hunting and stopped to pick up their mail,” Paul told the committee during the bill’s final hearing on February 6. “I really think that we ought to fix this problem.”

Postmaster General Ronald Stroman pushed back against the idea. If the crux of the bill was to reduce the cost of the Postal Service to taxpayers, this was counter intuitive.

Our postal inspectors, who are responsible for the safety and security of our postal facilities strongly believe that the current policy should remain in effect. They are concerned about encouraging any additional security measures. They are concerned about the safety of our employees. They believe that, given the 32,000 facilities, it’s going to cost them additional resources to go through every one of those facilities and make sure that they are safe and secure. The additional burdens on the postal inspectors from their point of view is going to make it very difficult on them.

Montana Democratic Senator John Tester agreed, in that special way that blue-dog rural state operators generally do: “I’m a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. I’ve got more guns than I need and I want more, okay? But the bottom line is, there are some places where a gun is not appropriate.”

Paul’s amendment was defeated, six votes to nine. Senator Carper then offered an additional amendment, which sought to conduct a study on how Paul’s policy suggestion could impact public safety and how costly implementation would be. In other words, it would put the issue in a file and neatly shelve it indefinitely.

So, the outright ban on firearms in and around post offices looked primed to carry the day. And the Gun Owners of America flipped out: “In a surprise ambush, Democrats on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee unanimously voted to defeat a Rand Paul amendment to allow guns in post offices. But Senator Paul was relentless in trying to get his language adopted. And as a result, a minor (anemic) improvement was later added as a sop to his persistence.”

And who’s fault was it really? “In the nine days that Paul was negotiating in good faith, Begich was using the time to organize an ambush.”

In reality, the junior senator from Alaska — the guy with the strong record on Second Amendment issues and “A” rating from the NRA (although admittedly not from the more hard-line GOA) — saved Paul’s efforts to liberalize carry laws within the framework of the post office reform bill.

Begich offered his own amendment, loosening restrictions to allow people to bring firearms onto post office property (e.g. parking lots); they just can’t bring them inside the building. Given that many of these offices are located in malls (like the Fifth Avenue mall in Anchorage), and the post master general is skeptical of the agency’s ability to guarantee the safety of customers and employees, this seems like a rational compromise — consistent with last year’s District Court ruling that firearms taken inside post offices is unconstitutional.

If Paul is concerned about a Kentuckian accidentally bringing a firearm into the post office, maybe strengthen the message to leave it in the car. And double-check. Prioritizing “accidental carry” tolerance above public safety and taxpayer dollars is a prophetic sense of entitlement.

Begich’s amendment passed. But conservative groups aren’t letting the political opportunity go to waste — even though the guy they’re attacking is responsible for loosening restrictions (or, as it was phrased, an unattributed “minor improvement”) and preventing more wasteful spending, should the bill become law.

It’s kind of amazing to watch the outrage take the wheel, bending reality until it becomes something very much unreal.

“Now that Begich is doing the bidding of New York interests,” the Anchorage Second Amendment Task Force lashed out in a blast email last week (read the full diatribe here), “will Bloomberg money start filling Begich’s campaign coffers to help him in his tough upcoming race for reelection? We’ll have to wait and see.”

No you won’t. You can just keep making it up as you go. It seems to be your gig. Don’t let any truth get in the way of all the homespun outrage.