States move to roll back firearm permits, over police objections
Legislators in half a dozen states are considering measures to roll back requirements that gun owners obtain permits and training before carrying concealed weapons, as Republican politicians race to show their support for gun rights ahead of primary and midterm elections this year.
But as the bills progress through state House and Senate chambers, they are running into new and increasingly vocal opposition from an unexpected source: Law enforcement organizations who say allowing more people to carry weapons would add to an already troubling spike in gun crimes.
In the nearly two decades since Alaska became the first state to allow concealed weapons without a permit, 20 others have joined in to scrap their rules. This year, legislators in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Indiana and Nebraska are considering their own versions.
“When it comes to the Second Amendment in Nebraska, it’s an issue that really hits home,” said state Sen. Tom Brewer, a conservative member of his state’s nonpartisan legislature and the bill’s chief sponsor. “You still have an obligation to have safe operation training. And I think people with any degree of responsibility or intelligence are going to understand that.”
Ohio legislators have already passed a similar bill; Gov. Mike DeWine (R) has not said whether he will sign it.
“It is going to promote lawlessness. I think that there will be people who carry weapons concealed for the purpose of being vigilantes. I think that it is not very well thought out for very high populated counties such as Hamilton County,” Ohio’s Hamilton County Sheriff Charmaine McGuffey said in an interview. “To vote for people to be able to concealed carry without a license, without any training, without any documentation, it makes it exponentially harder for law enforcement to prevent gun crimes.”
McGuffey, whose county includes the city of Cincinnati, is one of a handful of prominent law enforcement officials to testify or speak out against the proposed legislation. Gary Wolske, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio, wrote an op-ed critical of the law in the Columbus Dispatch.
The sheriff of Lincoln, Neb., testified against his state’s proposed version. In Alabama, the state Sheriffs Association held a press conference outside the statehouse to detail their opposition. Mobile, Ala., Sheriff Sam Cochran last year fired one of his deputies, state Rep. Shane Stringer (R), who introduced the bill in the legislature.
Stringer did not respond to multiple requests for comment. But he told the Alabama Political Reporter last year he was proud of his bill.
“After dedicating my life and career to law enforcement, losing a job because I stand in support of Alabama gun owners is certainly surprising, but nothing will discourage me from defending the constitutional guarantees promised to all of us as American citizens,” Stringer said.
Brewer, the Nebraska senator, said law enforcement is by no means universally opposed to his bill.
“I’ve got 13 counties in my district and every sheriff there supports it,” he said in an interview.
Supporters of the measure call it “constitutional carry.” Opponents and gun safety activists call it “permitless carry.”
“Constitutional carry codifies into law the fundamental right to defend yourself when outside of the home,” said Amy Hunter, a spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association (NRA). “Law-abiding Americans should not have to pay additional fees to exercise their fundamental right to defend themselves and their families.”
Opponents of the laws say they would put more weapons on the streets at a time when gun crimes are already on the rise, underscoring law enforcement’s opposition to the bills.
“There are communities across the country that are already really struggling with the crisis of gun violence,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, a gun safety organization. “Law enforcement are saying lawmakers are just ignoring their concerns.”
Gun safety groups point to studies published in academic journals and by the National Bureau of Economic Research that show states that weaken firearm permitting systems subsequently experience an increase in homicide and violent crime rates.
“Poor decisionmaking happens, and unfortunately, if you’re carrying a weapon and you make a poor decision in a very elevated and high stress situation, the repercussions and ramifications of that are tremendous,” McGuffey said. “People in the general public don’t understand generally how poorly most people shoot.”
Gun rights supporters point to their own studies to make the case that guns are most frequently used outside the home. Hunter, the NRA spokesperson, highlighted a study showing three-quarters of defensive gun uses occurred outside of a gun owner’s house.
“Self-defense situations can arise anywhere, any time, and without warning,” Hunter said in an email.
Intraparty politics likely increase pressure to approve permitless carry laws for some Republicans. In Ohio, DeWine faces a challenge later this year from ex-Rep. Jim Renacci (R), who has cast himself as a staunch backer of former President Trump ahead of the May 3 primary.
But McGuffey said she would continue to press DeWine to veto the legislation.
“If you oppose it and veto it, Gov. DeWine, you may never know the lives you will save,” McGuffey said. “But if you pass this bill, there’s a great likelihood that you will know the lives you didn’t save. Those names will live in infamy.”