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The George Zimmerman Right-To-Carry Amendment

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"The George Zimmerman Right-To-Carry Amendment"

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In addition to its desperate effort to block criminal background checks on gun-buyers, today the gun lobby is putting forward an amendment sponsored by John Cornyn that would undermine public safety and overturn each state’s ability to set its own laws.

The leading candidate for such an amendment is something the gun rights advocates call “National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity” or the “Cornyn Amendment,” named for Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn its chief sponsor.

Key swing votes will be Democrats like Senator Michael Bennet, Senator Bob Casey, Senator Mark Udall, Senator Tom Udall, and Senator Mark Warner – as well as moderate Republicans like Mark Kirk.

If enacted, the Cornyn Amendment would override existing state laws to allow anyone with a concealed gun carry permit issued by one state to carry guns into any other state.

Perhaps, the easiest way to illustrate the problems with this concept is by pointing back to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin just over a year ago. Recall, that’s the case of the Florida teenager who was shot to death by a gun-toting, self-appointed neighborhood watchman named George Zimmerman. Mr. Zimmerman, who does not dispute pulling the trigger but claims the shooting was justified, is awaiting trial for Mr. Martin’s murder.

The concealed carry reciprocity amendment that the gun lobby is likely to push this week would have authorized George Zimmerman to carry his guns anywhere in the country until his permit was finally suspended by the state.

Why is this a problem? Because some states, like Florida, issue gun carry permits to just about anyone, including criminals, known alcoholics, and domestic abusers. In Mr. Zimmerman’s case, he was arrested in 2005 for assaulting a police officer, was the subject of domestic violence restraining orders until 2006, but still had a gun permit in 2012. In fact, even after the shooting of Trayvon Martin, Florida’s extremely lax concealed carry laws prevented police from immediately revoking Mr. Zimmerman’s permit.

While 49 states allow concealed gun-carrying, most states place qualifications on who can carry those guns that go above and beyond the federal laws.

Federal law bars felons from purchasing and carrying guns, but it is silent on whether people convicted, for example, of numerous crimes with three-, six-, and nine-month sentences should be able to carry guns. Therefore, most state legislatures have enacted additional protections barring those kinds of dangerous people from getting permits to carrying concealed guns.

For example, California and 37 other states bar people convicted of various kinds of violent misdemeanor crimes from carrying guns. And, in Texas and 33 other states, anyone who wants to carry a gun has to go through safety training.

Of course, some states have no such protections. And, that’s their choice.

But, why is Congress – particularly members like Senator Cornyn who proclaim a philosophy of limited federal power – trying to override the majority of state legislatures that have enacted responsible, clearly constitutional laws to prevent dangerous people from carrying guns?

In 2009, when Senator Cornyn’s colleague John Thune led a similar effort to pass a national concealed carry amendment, a coalition of hundreds of mayors and police chiefs from across the country rose up to help defeat the bill by two votes. Major law enforcement organizations oppose the Cornyn Amendment, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Police Foundation, the National Latino Peace Officers Association, the National Black Police Association, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives; National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives, International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, and the Major Cities Chiefs Association.

Let’s hope that the Senate can once again muster the votes to defeat Senator Cornyn and Senator Thune’s dangerous idea — because if they don’t, expect to see George Zimmermans carrying guns in your neighborhood.

Arkadi Gerney is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.

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