Bill Expanding Conceal-Carry Rights Clears House Vote

WASHINGTON (CN) – A Republican majority voted in favor Wednesday of a bill that would let gun owners carry concealed firearms across state lines.

Nearly two months after Las Vegas became the site of the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act cleared the House Judiciary Committee this evening in a party-line vote, 19-11.

Introduced by Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., the bill obviates the need for gun owners to comport with varying state laws when it comes to carrying a concealed weapon. It now heads to the House floor for full consideration.

Hudson’s home base of North Carolina is one of 30 states that, along with the District of Columbia, issues concealed-carry permits without discretion.

As explained in a Nov. 16 paper by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, everyone in such states who applies for a concealed-carry permit can get one after meeting their state’s permit requirements.

Advocates of gun-permit reciprocity argue that the same logic allows licensed drivers to travel between states, but the researchers at Johns Hopkins call this comparison inapt. Though all 50 states require licensed drivers to demonstrate driving proficiency, only 23 of the right-to-carry state require at least some firearm training to obtain a permit, the school found.

Johns Hopkins notes that 12 states don’t require a permit at all to carry concealed weapons, and just eight states allow for some discretion in deciding who gets a permits. In these “may-issue” states, police chiefs can deny permits to applicants deemed to pose a risk of violence, regardless of whether the applicant has a criminal history.

Robyn Thomas, the executive director of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, called it “total hypocrisy” for gun proponents here to ignore the states’ rights issues at play here.

“Republicans and conservatives are supporting something that completely denigrates states’ rights – takes away the ability of states to decide the types of laws and approaches that work best for that state,” Thomas said in a phone interview Tuesday.

Hudson’s bill requires gun owners traveling across state lines to have a valid identification document and a valid license or concealed-carry permit from their home state. But Thomas notes that law-enforcement officers will have no way to verify the permits they might see since there is no national permitting system or database.

Gun owners who believe that they were wrongly questioned about their permits would also be empowered to sue law-enforcement officers under Hudson’s bill. Thomas said this provision would shift the balance of power.

“They’re actually creating a greater burden on prosecution to prove a violation of these laws,” she said. “They’re treating it like a civil right here, which it is not considered to be by the Supreme Court, at least not yet.”

Another provision of the bill that Thomas highlighted grants attorneys’ fees automatically to gun owners who prevail on their claims.

During markup of the bill before the House committee on Wednesday, Democrats proposed several amendments, such as making reciprocity unavailable to people convicted of violent crimes, domestic violence or stalking. Another of the amendments would set a national minimum age for concealed-carry permits. They were defeated, however, along party lines.

Against criticism from gun-control advocates, the National Rifle Association has called the bill its “top legislative priority.”

NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said in an email that law-abiding gun owners  need a solution “to the confusing patchwork of state and local gun laws.”

“Even the most conscientious law-abiding gun owners can run afoul of the law when they are traveling or temporarily living away from home,” Baker said. “Law-abiding citizens should be able to exercise their fundamental right to self-defense while traveling across state lines and our members are extremely excited to see this important legislation headed for a vote in the House of Representatives.”

Undermining the claim by the bill’s proponents that more guns improve safety, researchers say their findings demonstrate just the opposite.

States that adopt right-to-carry laws saw violent-crime rates spike between 13 percent and 15 percent in the decade following their enactment, according to a June report from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., contested these findings, however, at a hearing on the bill Wednesday before the House Judiciary Committee, which Goodlatte chairs.

Quoting a peer-reviewed study from 2013 published in Applied Economic Letters, Goodlatte said states with more restrictive concealed-carry laws had 10 percent higher murder rates between 1980 and 2009.

Goodlatte cited Supreme Court precedent — specifically District of Columbia v. Heller — in support of the bill as well.

But Thomas with the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, says the Supreme Court distinguished Heller from the issue of concealed-carry permits.

“When there’s been challenges to very restrictive concealed-carry permitting systems, like in California, New York and Maryland, the courts have held that you don’t get to claim Second Amendment protection of your right to carry guns outside the home,” she said. “That it doesn’t extend that far because the Supreme Court has only interpreted the Second Amendment to cover your right to have a gun inside the home.”

Daniel Webster, the director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins University, said proper training is the key to understanding why more guns do not equate to increased safety.

“It is more difficult for civilians to effectively and safely respond to acts of violence than what the gun lobby and video game entertainment industry leads us to believe,” Webster said in an email. “Law enforcement and military require very extensive and repeated training to equip individuals to perform these challenging tasks.”

Webster noted that “only a very tiny fraction of those who legally carry firearms have such training and skill,” and nothing in the existing law or Hudson’s concealed-carry reciprocity rule would change that.

A peer-reviewed study published last month in the American Journal of Public Health meanwhile looked at homicide rates from 1991-2015. Compared with “may-issue” states that use discretion in permitting, the study found that the overall homicide rate was 6.5 percent higher in right-to-carry states. The rate in right-to-carry states for firearm-related homicides, however, was 8.6 percent higher than in “may issue” states, and the handgun-related homicide rate was 10.6 percent higher.

Hudson’s bill has also sparked opposition in the law-enforcement community.

A group that calls itself the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence sent a letter to Congress on July 7 that said the bill could increase the risk officers face during traffic stops.

“It would be nearly impossible for police to verify the validity of nearly 50 different carry permits, forcing officers to make split-second decisions for their own safety in an already dangerous situation,” the letter states.

Webster with Johns Hopkins University echoed this point and called the provision of the bill that allows gun owners to sue law enforcement officers who wrongfully question them “reckless.”

He said the bill will constrain police officers from approaching and questioning people who appear to be carrying concealed firearms, and will be so limiting that officers will only be able to respond after someone starts shooting.

That, Webster said, will compromise the safety of law enforcement officers.

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