Senator Frank Lautenberg, the oldest member of the U.S. Senate, passed away this morning from viral pneumonia, according to the Washington Post and other news agencies. He was 89.
One of the Senate’s most ardent gun prohibitionists, Lautenberg had already announced that he would not seek another term in 2014, and when he last appeared in the Senate, he was in poor health.
Lautenberg was the author of the 1996 “Lautenberg Act” that many gun rights activists contend essentially turned a state-level misdemeanor into a federal felony by prohibiting anyone convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor that included the use, or attempted use, of physical force, from owning or possessing any firearm or ammunition. This applied to police officers as well as private citizens. According to the 2008 Senate Campaign website, this federal provision has blocked more than “150,000 attempted gun purchases by people with domestic abuse convictions.”
In the ensuing years, this law has tripped up many people with misdemeanor convictions that may have dated back many years, even decades. People with such convictions on their records face fines and imprisonment if they are found in possession of firearms.
The last surviving WWII veteran serving in the Senate, Lautenberg opposed pro-gun legislation that included a prohibition on junk lawsuits against the gun industry, allowing passengers to have firearms in their checked baggage on Amtrak trains and against tougher penalties for gun and drug violations. He sponsored legislation to ban standard-capacity magazines and to close the so-called “gun show loophole.”
In recent years, his anti-gun efforts were less successful, and in April he was on the losing side when the Senate did not support expanding background checks on gun sales.
One of the most liberal members of the Senate, Lautenberg had retired in 2000 but came out of retirement to salvage the 2002 election for Democrats when Sen. Robert Toricelli withdrew in a corruption scandal. First elected in 1982, Lautenberg is being remembered today as a champion of various efforts, including banning smoking on commercial airplanes, and as an opponent of the Iraq war.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Cristie will name a replacement.
MEANWHILE, looks like Breitbart was wrong last Friday when it predicted that President Barack Obama would be sign the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty today. According to Bloomberg News, the U.S. did not join its allies, including France and Great Britain in being at the front of the line to sign.
Bloomberg describes the treaty as “a political minefield” that could hand the president another embarrassing loss, because there are not sufficient votes in the Senate – especially now that Mr. Lautenberg has passed – to ratify the treaty.
UPDATE: This column traded e-mail with NRA News’ Ginny Simone, who was at Monday’s signing. She said Russia and China also did not sign, but that Secretary of State John Kerry has indicated the U.S. will sign the document.