The NRA threw its full weight behind a bill called the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act, and members of Congress leaped to do their bidding. In all, 246 lawmakers signed onto the bill in the House, all but ensuring that it will pass that chamber, and more than half of the Senate Republican caucus co-sponsored an even more radical form of the bill during the last Congress. If the bill becomes law, it would allow nearly anyone to shop around for the one state that is willing to issue them a license to carry a concealed firearm, and then force other states to honor that license.
Notwithstanding any provision of the law of any State or political subdivision thereof, related to the carrying or transportation of firearms, a person who is not prohibited by Federal law from possessing, transporting, shipping, or receiving a firearm, and who is carrying a government-issued photographic identification document and a valid license or permit which is issued pursuant to the law of a State and which permits the person to carry a concealed firearm, may carry a concealed handgun (other than a machinegun or destructive device) that has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce, in any State, other than the State of residence of the person, that —
‘(1) has a statute that allows residents of the State to obtain licenses or permits to carry concealed firearms; or
‘(2) does not prohibit the carrying of concealed firearms by residents of the State for lawful purposes.
Many states’ licensing rules for concealed carry are shockingly lax. Florida, for example, issued 1,700 concealed carry permits to people with “criminal histories, arrest warrants, domestic violence injunctions and misdemeanor convictions for gun-related crimes.” Because Illinois is the only state that does not have a concealed carry law, the NRA’s bill would render out-of-state visitors immune to every state but Illinois’ licensing laws — so long as they obtained a license from a state that practically gives them away.
Lest there be any doubt, this law has nothing whatsoever to do with the Second Amendment. As Justice Scalia suggested in District of Columbia v. Heller, there is no constitutional right to secretly conceal a firearm from the people around you. In Scalia’s words, “[f]rom Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose. For example, the majority of the 19th-century courts to consider the question held that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment or state analogues.”
Yet, while forcing New York to honor Florida’s poorly vetted carry licenses has nothing to do with the Second Amendment, it flies directly in the face of the right’s professed views on the 10th Amendment’s guarantee of states rights. The NRA’s bill is a direct attack on each state’s ability to determine on its own how best to protect the public’s safety.
Ultimately, however, this kind of fair weather tentherism is nothing new. Conservatives hate federal regulation of health care, until they want to invalidate state tort law or immunize the insurance industry from state consumer protection law. They label Medicare, Social Security and even child labor laws violations of states rights, then cheer Supreme Court justices who would give banks, drug and tobacco companies sweeping immunity from state law.
In other words, the right’s lockstep embrace of the NRA’s concealed carry bill is just one more example of conservatives’ willingness to claim that the Constitution means whatever they want it to mean.