A dangerous distraction: Concealed weapons bill overrides state decisions on public safety

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The fact is that different states have enacted different requirements for carrying a concealed weapon within their borders.  Thirty-five states require applicants for a concealed carry license to complete some degree of firearms safety training.  Twenty-nine states will not grant a permit to individuals with a record of alcohol abuse.  Although federal law prohibits individuals with felony convictions from possessing a weapon, thirty-eight states have chosen to deny concealed carry licenses to individuals with convictions for certain misdemeanor offenses—such as stalking, sexual assault, and impersonating a police officer.

Some states have voluntarily entered into reciprocity agreements with other states.  Under current law, however, states may exit these agreements at any time.  Such is the case in New Mexico and Nevada, which recently stopped recognizing Utah permits because Utah does not require live-fire instruction. Virginia will not honor permits from Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, or New Hampshire because those states do not provide law enforcement with a reliable means to verify out-of-state permits.  Idaho and Indiana choose to honor Virginia permits anyway.

The National Right-to-Carry Act effectively eliminates all state choice in the matter.  State decisions about eligibility to carry a firearm in public will be stripped away in favor of the lowest common denominator.  

The notion that the manager’s amendment adopted by the Majority in the Judiciary Committee will solve this states’ rights problem—by protecting jurisdictions that allow no concealed carry at all—is fundamentally unserious.  Presently, only Illinois and the District of Columbia fall into this exception. Given that the Majority offered an amendment in markup to impose this bill on the District of Columbia, the safety of its residents notwithstanding, we cannot expect even this “solution” to last long under H.R. 822.

The Majority argues that our Second Amendment rights, as articulated in District of Columbia v. Heller and other recent cases, ought to trump the concerns of state and local law enforcement when it comes to concealed weapons.  Heller stands for no such thing.  That case outlined a basic right to bear arms for the purpose of “self-defense in the home,” but specifically recognized the constitutionality of state regulations on concealed weapons.  We cannot allow the gun lobby to use Heller as a basis for discarding our state laws or our common sense.

Worst of all, H.R. 822 is a direct threat to public safety.  During a traffic stop, with a firearm in view, police officers must make split-second decisions for their own protection and the protection of others.  But by forcing H.R. 822 on the states, the Majority also forces officers in that situation to contend with permits from forty-eight different jurisdictions—often with no means to verify their authenticity.  

It is no wonder that this bill is opposed by organizations like the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Major Cities Chiefs Association, and the Police Foundation.  Reasonable minds can disagree about the conditions we ought to set on the possession of firearms, but we should not put officers at risk solely to appease the N.R.A.

Last week, voters across the country rejected conservative overreach on all fronts.  Today, the Majority has an opportunity to heed that warning.  With public safety at risk, and with so many more pressing issues before us, I urge my colleagues to reject this bill.

Rep. Conyers serves Michigan’s 14th district.