Right To Carry? The Battle Goes Nationwide!
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Right To Carry? The Battle Goes Nationwide!
It was Nov. 3, 2004, the day after America’s most recent presidential election, and the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, of Bellevue, Washington, lost no time broaching the issue of a national concealed-carry law.
CCRKBA chairman Alan Gottlieb hailed the return of President George W. Bush to the White House as a huge win for gun owners, and complimented gun owners for voting in record numbers for pro-Second Amendment candidates. However, Gottlieb added a caveat. “The real work begins now,” he said. “This is the first real opportunity that gun owners have had in recent memory to go on the offensive. We need to immediately begin pushing for an expansion of the armed pilots program, and perhaps equally important to homeland security, we need to pass national concealed-carry legislation for private citizens.
“It is time for Congress and the White House to…provide the same right of national concealed carry to law-abiding American citizens that they provided [earlier] this year to off-duty and retired police officers. No matter what an American citizen does for a living, they do not leave their right of self-defense at the border of their home state.”
National concealed carry is not a new idea. In fact, legislation related to the issue appeared in Congress as recently as 2003, though it never got beyond committee-level consideration.
Still, as Gottlieb noted, Americans for decades have probably never has a more pro-Second Amendment administration in the White House. Further, the White House has considerable congressional support for issues near and dear to America’s gun owners.
But, national concealed carry can be controversial, partly because states’ rights can be an issue. Simply passing national legislation does not guarantee things will work, especially if law enforcement isn’t behind such laws. Still, national concealed-carry and reciprocity legislation will likely be introduced and discussed in 2005, and the popularity of concealed carry at the state level has much grass-roots support.
Currently, 44 states have some form of concealed-carry law. Only Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, and Wisconsin ban any concealed carry. However, the laws and applications vary. Several are “may-issue” or “discretionary” states, meaning people can apply for a concealed-carry permit and must provide law enforcement with a reason why the permit is needed. At that point, law enforcement can approve or deny the application.
Many more states are “right-to-carry” states. That means if citizens meet basic requirements – age, no felony convictions or taking a firearms certification course – they will be issued a permit.
Vermont and Alaska have no laws on concealed carry. As long as people aren’t exempt from owning firearms for federal reasons – a felony conviction, for example – anyone can carry any firearm without a permit or certification course.
In February 2003, Rep. John N. Hostettler, R-Ind., introduced House Bill 990, the Secure Access to Firearms Enhancement Act of 2003. Essentially, HR 990 created concealed-carry reciprocity between states. If, for example, you held a concealed-carry permit in State A, you could also legally concealed carry in State B, if State B allowed concealed carry. HR 990 made it into but never out of committee, said Michael Jahr, Hostettler’s director of communications.
“I think we had as many as 60 cosponsors,” Jahr said. “But I think the problem was that it was not a priority of the National Rifle Association. [At the time], the NRA’s priority was getting the Washington D.C. gun ban lifted, and that did happen. But with all that focus on the gun ban, there was not the clamor for HR 990 that there was for other legislation.
“But Congressman Hostettler will reintroduce national concealed-carry legislation during this Congressional session. We’re still working on the bill, but I think it will look very much like it did when it was HR 990.”
Kelly Hobbs, NRA spokesperson, said Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., has introduced national legislation for concealed-carry reciprocity during almost every legislative session. Hobbs expected Stearns to do so again in 2005. She also noted that Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., has introduced HR 47.
“It’s not a right-to-carry bill,” Hobbs said. “But it basically gives you the right to self-defense and allows you to sue the government if your right to self defense has been violated. So it can be considered a more sweeping remedy to concealed carry, if you will.”
Although Hobbs was heartened to see Bush re-elected, she noted that included no guarantee that national concealed-carry legislation would be passed. “Certainly, the president has been very supportive of concealed carry, as he was while he was governor of Texas,” she said. “And the House of Representatives has a very good understanding of what the American people want concerning the Second Amendment. The Senate, though, is another story” – and could be a stumbling block to national concealed-carry legislation.
Federal and States Rights
But the Senate isn’t the only potential problem a national concealed-carry law could face. States’ rights have been an issue too.
“A lot of conservatives who are very much pro-Second Amendment are also a little leery about a federal law that might step on states’ rights,” Gottlieb said. “But, on the other hand, they do recognize that if you’re permitted in one state, you should be able to have reciprocity for that permit in another state.”
Richard Baker of Milwaukee, Wis., has heard concerns about states’ rights and national concealed-carry, and he also has concerns. Founder and president of the Wisconsin Concealed Carry Association, a group working to pass concealed-carry legislation, Baker is worried that a national concealed-carry law might be opposed by conservatives and liberals because of the states’ rights issue.
“At the same time,” Baker said, “the U.S. Constitution has a ‘full-faith-and-credit’ clause. So every state that honors every other states’ driver’s licenses and marriage licenses. But they don’t honor concealed-carry permits.”
Gottlieb expects some form of national concealed-carry legislation to be introduced in 2005, but he thinks it might focus more on interstate reciprocity rather than the right to carry. “You don’t have full reciprocity within all the states,” he said. “A lot of people travel with their firearms, and they can get hung up with the different laws and regulations. [Politicians] figured out how to do this with driver’s licenses – to make them good in all states – without violating any of these state’s laws. I’m sure they can do it with this, too.”
The Texas Model
Texas shows that concealed-carry reciprocity on a large scale is possible. In 1995, then Gov. George W. Bush signed a law making Texas the 23rd state to allow concealed-carry. By 2002, according to the NRA, Texas had issued more than 223,000 concealed-carry permits.
Reciprocity soon became an issue for Texans, especially those traveling to neighboring states. So, the Texas governor and Department of Public Safety began working with other concealed-carry states to create agreements letting Texans exercise their concealed-carry permits outside of Texas’ borders. It required some ‘tinkering’ to make Texas’ concealed-carry laws more acceptable to other states, but the work seems to have been worthwhile.
In January 2005, Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed a proclamation that created concealed handgun reciprocity with Colorado. It was the 15th reciprocity agreement Texas has with another state. Texas also has concealed-carry agreements with Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, and Wyoming.
“Texans should remember that laws vary from state to state, and before traveling, license holders should educate themselves about laws in other states that govern where and when they can legally carry their concealed handguns,” Col. Thomas Davis Jr., director of the Texas Department of Safety, said in a recent press release.
Watch What You Wish For
Making a national law, though, does not always solve problems. Consider the Law Enforcement Officers’ Safety Act, signed into law by President Bush during July 2004. The law made it legal for retired police officers to be certified to carry a concealed firearm. However, the federal law left open many issues, including how police departments are suppose to certify those officers and what standards must be met before a permit is issued.
As the Feb. 11, 2005 Gun List reported – “Implementing Federal Carry Proves Difficult” – that lack of clear regulatory direction had Illinois and Wisconsin examining how to make the new law workable. The Illinois State Legislature was considering what standards should be in place to certify retired police, and Wisconsin was debating who in state government had the authority to develop such standards.
This issue of making things work has other components, too. Politically speaking, that can be a much larger issue than it might seem. Wisconsin’s attempts to enact a concealed-carry law provides a good example. The state has been debating concealed carry for years.
In November 2003, the state’s senate and assembly passed bills that would have allowed citizens of Wisconsin to hold concealed-carry permits if they passed certain requirements, including a background check, and had no felony convictions or misdemeanor domestic violence crimes. Applicants also had to be at least 21 years old and take a firearms training course.
But in January 2004, Gov. James Doyle vetoed the legislation, and that veto was sustained, though only by one vote in the assembly. The concealed-carry legislation received forceful opposition from the Wisconsin Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Association and its almost 3,000 members. But WSDSA didn’t – and doesn’t – have a philosophical problem with concealed carry, said Jeffrey Wiswell, WSDSA’s lobbyist. The opposition revolved around money and manpower.
As originally devised, Wisconsin’s concealed-carry legislation dropped the administrative responsibility for concealed carry into the laps of Wisconsin’s county sheriffs, whose offices would have performed background checks and monitored concealed-carry holders for compliance. Wiswell said WSDSA was expecting 35,000 to 55,000 Wisconsin citizens to apply for a concealed-carry permit. Although the proposed law would have given sheriff departments a share of the application fee, WSDSA feared that share was insufficient. That is, sheriff’s departments might have had to supplement the added concealed-carry work from their own money and manpower allocations, which are already in short supply considering tight state and local government budgets.
Wiswell said that WSDSA might support concealed-carry legislation that better addressed the organization’s concerns. Such legislation should be before the Wisconsin Legislature in 2005, and conservatives gained ground in both houses in the November 2003 election. However, WSDSA’s support might be the element that makes Wisconsin concealed carry a reality.
A Lot of Progress
Although Baker wasn’t opposed to a national concealed-carry law – and in fact thought it could be a good thing – he was also concerned about the potential anti-gun backlash such legislation might create.
“With national concealed carry, you’d have objections from [politicians in] New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco – you name it,” he said. “Politically, I just don’t see it happening.” Gottlieb said some folks – most of whom already oppose the Second Amendment – would object to concealed carry. However, he believes there is currently more support for national concealed carry than ever.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in the last decade; an awful lot of progress at the state level,” he said. “More states have become concealed-carry states, while other ‘discretionary’ states have liberalized their laws considerably.” Our own surveys and polls of gun owners find that this is the number 1 federal firearms issue they’re focused on right now. So it has created a real ground swell for this issue and more support for the idea of national concealed carry. I’m very hopeful we’ll get something done on this and soon.”