Here’s some encouraging Second Amendment news after yesterday’s downer about that mayor in New Mexico banning guns in the village of Ruidoso.
More than half of the members of the House of Representatives have co-sponsored a bill, requiring any state or jurisdiction that issues concealed-weapons permits to honor permits granted by any other state or jurisdiction. It’s H.R. 822: The National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Bill.
John Crewdson reports for Bloomberg News, Sept. 12, 2011, that if Congress passes the bill, Florida’s licenses, for example, would apply to 49 states in all — allowing their holders to carry hidden guns in places such as midtown Manhattan, where the New York Police Department currently rejects most such applications for “concealed- carry” permits.
Only Illinois and Washington, D.C., where residents aren’t allowed to carry concealed handguns at all, would be exempt from the bill.
“Law-abiding people are not immune from crime just because they cross over a state border,” said Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the National Rifle Association. The 4 million-member gun-rights group has lobbied state legislatures to pass concealed-carry laws since the 1980s, and it considers the federal “reciprocity” bill a common-sense approach to the state-by-state patchwork of rules, he said.
But John Donohue, a professor at Stanford Law School, says he thinks the bill would be held unconstitutional because it “effectively prevents a state from controlling who has guns within the state, which has always been a core police power function of state government. It is so ironic that it is the conservatives who are trying to push this encroachment, since they usually are very active in championing states’ rights.”
Rules and standards — including safety-training requirements — for granting such licenses vary by state. New Mexico requires 16 hours of training. Ohio requires 12, Texas and Louisiana, 10. At least 10 states require none.
From 2005 through 2009, U.S. domestic handgun production and foreign-made imports more than doubled, to 4,600,232 from 1,995,802, according to data compiled by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which represents the firearms industry.
With states’ adoption of concealed-carry laws and U.S. Supreme Court decisions affirming the right to keep and bear arms, “it is not surprising that there has been an increase in consumer demand for firearm and ammunition products,” said Lawrence G. Keane, the foundation’s senior vice president and general counsel.
In Wisconsin, where Governor Scott Walker, a Republican, signed the nation’s newest concealed-carry law on July 8, the legislation spurred an immediate increase in handgun purchases, said Eric Grabowski, who manages the Shooters Shop in the Milwaukee suburb of West Allis.
A 2007 study by the Harvard School of Public Health, the most recent data available, estimated the number of privately owned firearms in the U.S. at 283 million — more than one for each of the 245 million Americans over the age of 20.
If adopted, the federal reciprocity bill would cause the number of handguns to “jump significantly,” said Grover Norquist, an NRA board member who’s better known as the president of Americans for Tax Reform. Among other reasons, Norquist cited his belief that people who live in one state and travel frequently to another for work or other reasons would buy more guns.
States can already choose to adopt reciprocity agreements — Florida has such pacts with 35 other states, although 4 of them require that the permit holder be a Florida resident. The federal bill would eliminate states’ discretion. As a result, even the most exacting jurisdictions would be required to honor permits from the laxest. Stanford University law professor Robert Weisberg called it a “race to the bottom.”
In 2007, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper in Fort Lauderdale reported that 1,400 people in the state had permits even though they had been sentenced for major crimes, including assault, drug possession, sexual battery and manslaughter. Judges had withheld formal convictions under a state law that allowed the practice.
Since 2007, after the NRA lobbied on the issue, 39 states have limited the amount of public information that’s available on permit holders — making investigations into their backgrounds more difficult.
In 14 states, residents need some form of license, permit or other prerequisite just to purchase a handgun from a dealer, according to the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action. Those requirements wouldn’t be affected by the federal bill.
The federal legislation, introduced by U.S. Representative Heath Shuler, a North Carolina Democrat, and Representative Cliff Stearns, a Florida Republican, has already attracted 241 other co-sponsors in the House, enough to guarantee its passage in that chamber.
Two Republican senators, David Vitter of Louisiana and John Thune of South Dakota, are expected to introduce a companion bill that at least 10 Democratic senators are likely to support, said Chad Ramsey, a lobbyist with the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which opposes concealed carry. That would give the bill 58 votes if all Republican senators supported it, two short of the number needed to avoid a filibuster.
Obama declared his opposition to carrying concealed weapons during the 2008 campaign. Matt Lehrich, a White House spokesman, declined to say whether Obama would veto a national reciprocity bill if it reaches his desk.
The bill, which is scheduled to come up during a House subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, is opposed by the American Bar Association. At its convention last month, the lawyers’ professional group adopted a resolution supporting “broad discretion” for local law enforcement in deciding whether to grant permits.
A coalition of 600 U.S. mayors announced its opposition to the bill today in a news release. The group, Mayors Against Illegal Handguns, is co-chaired by Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.
The 22,000-member International Association of Chiefs of Police also opposes the measure. “Our problem is the potpourri of varied training standards for each state,” said Scott Knight, the police chief in Chaska, Minnesota, and chairman of the group’s firearms committee.
Largely because of the differing standards among “shall issue” and “may issue” states, the bill raises what Harvard University professor of constitutional law Laurence Tribe calls “interesting and difficult constitutional questions.” Tribe said the bill is “an unprecedented attempt by Congress” to require states with more stringent concealed carry laws to accede to “the more permissive laws of whichever state initially licensed someone’s carrying of a concealed weapon.”
While the Constitution’s commerce clause gives Congress authority to regulate commerce between the states, the reciprocity bill probably wouldn’t fall within that power, said Weisberg, the law professor who serves as faculty co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center. Nor would it fall under Congress’ power to enforce such existing constitutional liberties as the right “to keep and bear arms,” he said. That’s because the Constitution is silent about whether there’s a specific right to carry a concealed firearm outside the home, and the Supreme Court has not yet spoken on the issue.
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