On Thursday, gun reform proponents overcame a key hurdle in the Senate after 68 senators — including 16 Republicans — voted to proceed to a comprehensive package that expands background checks for gun purchases, increases penalties against gun trafficking, and invests in school safety. The senate will consider the measure next week using an open debate process that will allow senators to offer amendments to the underlining bill.
Sen. Harry Reid’s (D-NV) decision to guarantee Republicans the opportunity to alter the legislation may have convinced Republicans to support proceeding to the measure, but gun safety advocates fear that it could also sink it. NRA-backed lawmakers are widely expected to introduce a series of killer amendments to weaken the underlining proposal — none more pernicious that a so-called “concealed carry reciprocity” amendment.
The measure, last considered in 2009, is a long-held NRA priority and was almost included in the bipartisan Senate amendment to expand background checks to gun shows and online purchases. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) sought to add the provision to the final agreement with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), but Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Reid rejected it, fearing that it would alienate gun safety advocates.
“Concealed carry reciprocity” would require all states to recognize out-of-state permits for concealed handguns, essentially eliminating tough state gun standards and establishing a low federal floor of regulation. State laws that deny permits to people who have been convicted of certain violent misdemeanors or require gun safety training could be ignored, as states with tighter gun regulations would have to accept permit holders from states with looser standards — even if those permit holders would have been prevented from carrying guns in the state where they are traveling. Federal law only prohibits felons and a few other categories of people from possessing guns, leading many states to enact more restrictions.
“If Wyoming has a concealed carry law, somebody could come from Wyoming to the big cities of New York or New Haven or Bridgeport and carry a concealed weapon, which is so against our way of life and the needs here in New York,” Schumer warned earlier this week. Gun safety advocates also argue that the provision undermines the GOP’s commitment to state sovereignty by stripping states “of their ability to decide who can — and more importantly, who can’t — legally carry a hidden, loaded gun inside their borders.” The NRA contends that “Congress should recognize that the right to self-defense does not end at state lines” and allow “an individual who has met the requirements for a carry permit” in one state, to carry the weapon in all states. State laws governing where concealed firearms may be carried would still “apply within each state’s borders,” the group says.
But in a letter to Congress during the 2009 debate on a concealed carry reciprocity amendment offered by Sen. John Thune (R-SD), Mayors Against Illegal Guns warned that the effort could empower illegal gun traffickers by allowing them to purchase guns in one state and then drive them across state lines with impunity — so long as they hold an out-of-state permit. Law enforcement would be required to honor concealed carry permits from all 50 states but without properly verifying their authenticity. A letter from the Major Chiefs Association to Congress in 2009 expressed concern that the measure could endanger law enforcement and public safety.
Currently, only 9 states have chosen to allow concealed carrying by all out-of-state permit holders and 29 states recognize permits from selected states. Twelve states don’t recognize any out-of-state permits.
In 2009, Thune’s amendment was rejected 58 to 39 but attracted the support of all but two Republicans and 12 other Democrats who are still in the Senate. A bipartisan group of senators, including Thune, have introduced concealed carry reciprocity bills in the 113th Congress.