You might think it would be difficult for the gun lobby to devise a way to expand gun rights, short of going through the gates of delirium into mandatory gun-ownership schemes. But this week Congress is embarking on what could be a potentially successful GOP-backed effort to sweep away state conditions for concealed-carry weapons licenses, at least when it comes to nonresidents. The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, a top priority of the National Rifle Association, would stipulate that once you have a license in any state (and some states issue them to nonresidents) then any other state which in any circumstances allows concealed carry (i.e., all 50 of them) must honor that license.
The holiday season may seem an odd time to expand gun rights, but there are two apparent reasons for the timing. The first and most important is that the concealed-carry measure is being attached to a bipartisan gun bill with some urgency about it: an effort to tighten up the reporting lapses that are undermining the national background-check system, as evidenced by the horrific massacre in Texas last month by a man whose record of domestic violence in the military was unknown to those who sold him firearms. The second, and rather perverse, reason is a ubiquitous argument that revolves around holiday travel, as expressed by the bill’s main House sponsor, Richard Hudson, a Republican from North Carolina:
[L]aw-abiding citizens who may be passing through one state to get to grandma’s house in the next state aren’t automatically going to become a criminal.
So it’s supposed to be a travesty that Hudson’s constituents who are traveling to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace can’t take their hand cannons with them in case they need to put down some lowlife along the way.
The Chicago Tribune editorially responded to the “grandma’s house” argument with an appropriate level of contempt:
Well, boohoo. People from Maine don’t like having to drive a maximum of 65 mph in Vermont instead of the 75 mph allowed at home. People in Illinois resent not being able to buy beer on Sunday when they go to Indiana. Coloradans would love to take their legally purchased cannabis with them to Utah. But that’s how federalism works. If you don’t like a state’s laws, you’re free to stay away.
The chief practical effect of concealed-carry reciprocity would be to circumvent firearms-training requirements for a license in many states:
[O]pponents say a federal mandate would force states that exclude people they deem high risk to accept licenses issued in states with looser standards. Existing training requirements for concealed gun permits vary greatly: from quick and cheap online courses, to 16 hours of in-person training with supervised live fire. As The Trace has reported, 24 states will issue permits without requiring live fire experience.
And while the immediate impact would be on nonresidents, the fact that a growing number of states issue licenses to people from other states means reciprocity could undermine each state’s right to regulate the gun rights of its own citizens.
From a practical point of view, the proposed system would be a nightmare for law-enforcement officials who would have no way of knowing in sudden confrontations with people packing heat whether or not they were licensed in another state. That is why law-enforcement officials have strongly spoken out in opposition to the bill.
Nonetheless, the bill will likely pass in the House. The Senate, where eight Democratic votes would be needed even if every Republican lined up to support concealed-carry reciprocity, is dicier, but hardly impossible:
Hudson’s office noted that seven Democrats currently serving in the Senate voted for a different concealed-carry reciprocity bill that was offered as an amendment in 2013.
The bill will represent a good test of whether another year of gun massacres has made any dent in the gun lobby’s momentum. We’ll also have more evidence for the proposition that Republican support for states’ rights extends only to those issues where they can’t get the federal government to impose their views on the country as a whole.