We need a better pathway for allowing civilians to move guns across state lines

We need a better pathway for allowing civilians to move guns across state lines
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Since the Supreme Court's 2010 ruling in McDonald v. Chicago, all states have had statutes granting law-abiding citizens the right to carry concealed handguns (CCW). About 36 grant reciprocity to CCW holders from other states, while a handful of states like Vermont allow residents or visitors) to carry concealed firearms without permit, a practice known as "constitutional carry."

Then states like New York, New Jersey, California and Maryland, refuse to honor any gun permits other than their own. And NYC doesn't recognize CCW licenses issued elsewhere in the state. New Jersey makes it a felony to have hollow point bullets outside the home, except for eligible law enforcement officers and hunters. Another restriction varying by jurisdiction is handgun magazine capacity. It's a crime in some states to have clips with a capacity greater than 10 rounds.

These rules create problems for people crossing state lines with legally possessed pistols. It turns innocent travelers into “instant felons,” because they didn't know reciprocity isn't uniform. For example, even though this writer is qualified under the federal Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act (LEOSA), to carry handguns in any state, when I go to New Jersey I can't bring my pistol with a 14 round magazine. It's legal for me in New York, but be would a crime in the Garden State.


Congress wants to remedy these issues by passing the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017. One bill was introduced by Sen. John CornynJohn CornynKey GOP senators appear cool to Kavanaugh accuser's demand Trump, GOP regain edge in Kavanaugh battle GOP mulls having outside counsel question Kavanaugh, Ford MORE (R-Texas), and a second was introduced by Rep. Richard HudsonRichard Lane HudsonTrump calls North Carolina redistricting ruling ‘unfair’ The Hill's Morning Report: Trump shifts campaign focus from Senate to House Jordan weathering political storm, but headwinds remain MORE (R-N.C.). The outcry from officials in states with restrictive gun laws, many police chiefs and the U.S. Fraternal Order of Police (to which I belong), has been vociferous.


As written, Hudson's may not pass the House and Cornyn's faces death by filibuster in the Senate. Both rely on the Commerce Clause of the Constitution (Article I, Section 8), as does LEOSA, which covers goods transported in interstate commerce. Both bills allow people in states with constitutional carry to take their concealed handguns into states requiring permits. The Senate version doesn't address state ammunition or magazine capacity restrictions, but the House bill does Both drafts also sanction CCW in school zones and open federal lands.

To get a reciprocity bill through Congress and win court cases certain to be brought by some states, it should also be based on the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution (Article IV, Section 1), which authorizes Congress to require a state to honor laws of the others. With both the Commerce and Full Faith provisions of the Constitution as the backbone of a CCW reciprocity statute, legal challenges wouldn't likely succeed.

One factor that both House and Senate bills fail to address is gun safety. We don't allow people to drive cars, operate boats or fly aircraft without appropriate education. In what rational reality should we allow people with no training to carry firearms in public? There are three areas that could be made mandatory for those who want coverage by CCW reciprocity.

First, there are far too many so-called "accidental" discharges of guns. These are, in fact, "negligent" releases, since a modern handgun only fires when the trigger is pulled. Internal safeties prevent them from going off when dropped. So anyone who wants to be covered by this law should undergo a police or NRA certified course in safe handling of firearms.

Next is competence with firearms. Reciprocity "applicants" must go to a certified firing range to learn how to shoot, and they must meet a recurring mandate for annual re-qualification in safety and proficiency. These are requirements under LEOSA for active and retired law enforcement officers, and there's no reason why it shouldn't be part of a bill covering civilians.

Finally training should be given in the law covering the use of deadly force. Law enforcement officers learn this in academies. Most civilians have not. It can be tricky, as states like Florida have "stand your ground" statutes, which authorize the use of guns against unarmed persons in circumstances that would lead to homicide charges in others. Nevertheless, overview education when deadly force may be used ought be another prerequisite for national CCW reciprocity. 

While the Supreme Court has interpreted the Second Amendment to be an individual right, they've also ruled that "reasonable restrictions" on it may be imposed. However, proper training is reasonable and might mollify critics of reciprocity.

Lastly, the provisions allowing CCW in school zones must be scrapped. It's a contentious issue best resolved by state laws. Why put something toxic into a CCW reciprocity bill that otherwise has a good chance of passage? It took years for LEOSA to pass, and then to fine-tune it to cover all active and retired law enforcement personnel.

Let’s streamline legislation affording civilians CCW privileges, leave rights of specific local prohibitions to the states, and follow the settled path established by LEOSA so properly trained civilians can obtain the right to carry their legal handguns across state lines without running afoul of the law.

Martin W. Schwartz is an attorney based in New York. He worked previously as an assistant district attorney in Bronx County, a special counsel for the U.S. Department of Justice-FBI, and for more than a decade as a special agent for the U.S. Customs Service, retiring as a security and intelligence officer.