Earlier this month, the House of Representatives passed a piece of gun legislation that is at odds with the preferences of 83 percent of gun owners and 83 percent of Republicans.
The issue on which they voted — the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017, which passed the House by a vote of 231 to 198, is the National Rifle Association’s highest legislative priority and will next be considered by the Senate. But while House members who voted to support this bill may gratify the ever-powerful gun lobby, they actually voted against the interests and wants of the majority of Republicans and gun owners.
Currently, each state has its own rules about the legal requirements for who can carry concealed firearms and which carry permits, if any, they honor from other states. But under federally-mandated concealed carry reciprocity, states such as Maryland, which has opted to allow law enforcement discretion in issuing concealed carry permits and safety training requirements for permit holders, would be required to honor a permit granted by states such as Utah, which grants permits without discretion or safety tests, even to out-of-state residents.
Maryland would then have to allow the Utah permit holder to carry a concealed firearm everywhere within Maryland that a local permit holder may carry. In addition, the bill would allow residents from the 12 states where there are no requirements whatsoever for legal gun owners to carry concealed firearms to carry concealed guns in the other 38 states that normally require permits.
The heated rhetoric surrounding the regulation of guns in America would lead one to believe that reforms to prudently regulate guns will never happen. Yet Americans, by wide margins, back stronger safety standards for concealed carrying, regardless of their political affiliation.
In a national survey conducted earlier this year by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, we asked whether people agreed or disagreed that “a person who can legally carry a concealed gun should be required to pass a test demonstrating they can safely and lawfully handle a gun in common situations they might encounter.” A remarkable 83 percent of gun owners backed such a requirement, as did 83 percent of Republicans, 87 percent of Democrats and 84 percent of Independents.
What’s especially troubling with the proposed legislation, though, is what it invites. Research shows that gun violence rates increase over time when laws regulating concealed gun carrying are substantially weakened. A study published earlier this year from Stanford economist John Donohue and colleagues found that violent crime rates increased with each additional year a right-to-carry law was in place, presumably as more people were carrying guns on their person and in their vehicles. By years seven through 10 following the adoption of a RTC law, violent crime rates were 11 percent to 14 percent higher than predicted had such laws not been in place. Weaker concealed carry laws were associated with a 10 percent higher murder rate 10 years following the adoption of RTC laws. A separate study by Boston University researchers also found that state laws greatly expanding legal gun carrying were linked to increased homicides with handguns.
The arguments being made to move this bill forward tend to rely on two faulty lines of reasoning that don’t withstand even light scrutiny.
First, proponents argue that the legislation would help mitigate the confusion of gun owners as to where and when they can carry their firearms, much as state drivers’ licenses, which are honored across state lines, do.
To obtain a driver’s license, one must demonstrate the ability to safely maneuver a motor vehicle under many different scenarios. The rigorous training and testing have important public safety implications. Concealed-carry permits, on the other hand, rarely, if ever, require testing to gauge whether a person can safely operate a weapon under stressful scenarios, demonstration of proficiency in safe firearm handling, or proper decision making about whether to use a firearm.
Second, there is the stopping-the-bad-guys argument. To listen to open-carry advocates, mass shootings would be far less common if only we had enough armed citizens at the ready to take down active shooters. In the context of mass shootings, though, it’s incredibly rare that someone successfully interrupts and stops an event. In fact, out of the 111 mass shootings analyzed by researcher Louis Klarevas in his 2016 book, Rampage Nation: Securing America from Mass Shootings, an armed civilian never — not once — intervened to end it.
While armed citizens do occasionally use their guns to end violent crimes, more frequently what we see is how guns turn escalations into more violent and lethal encounters.
At any moment of any day across the United States, people have heated arguments, get very angry, and have impaired judgment after drinking too much. These common interactions are usually inconsequential, but when you introduce guns into these scenarios, an escalation can quickly become serious and even lead to lethal violence.
Concealed carry reciprocity will expand nonexistent safety standards for public gun carrying across the nation. As this legislation now heads to the U.S. Senate, policy makers should know that Americans want stronger laws for concealed carry in public, and that this legislation will compromise the safety of innocent lives.
Daniel WebsterDaniel Alan WebsterLaura Loomer says she's tested positive for COVID-19 How Donald Rumsfeld helped save the presidency Gun deaths surge in Iowa ahead of loosened handgun restrictions MORE is the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. This op-ed from Daniel Webster is made in a personal capacity and is independent of his affiliation with Johns Hopkins University.