GOP Pushing "Dangerous" Concealed-Carry Reciprocity Bill

September 12, 2011 9:42 am ET

On Tuesday, a House Judiciary subcommittee will hold a hearing on H.R. 882, the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act. Heavily backed by the National Rifle Association, the legislation has received overwhelming GOP support. While supporters claim the bill "protects the rights of each state," it would actually force states that have enacted rigorous concealed-carry restrictions to recognize permits from more lenient states, including states where investigations have exposed massive flaws in permitting procedures. This would "gut state laws from the back end," according to a former Republican member of Congress. Contrary to claims from the bill's advocates, experts have found no correlation between concealed-carry and lower crime rates, and in some cases evidence of higher rates. This evidence has led numerous law enforcement organizations to oppose the bill, calling it "dangerous" for police officers.

Reciprocity Advocates Suggest The Bill Honors States' Rights...

NRA's Cox: Bill "Explicitly Protects The Rights Of Each State." In a September 1 op-ed, National Rifle Association chief lobbyist Chris W. Cox wrote: "There are some who agree with the spirit of H.R. 822 but are concerned that it would create a 'federal gun licensing' system. This is simply not true. The bill explicitly protects the right of each state to issue its own permits and determine its own rules and regulations with regard to concealed carry — such as where carrying is prohibited and where it's allowed." [Daily Caller, 9/1/11]

... But It Forces States To Recognize Permits From States With Low Standards...

Currently, Many States Restrict Concealed-Carry Based On Age, Alcohol Abuse, Or Criminal Records. According to Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG):

  • At least 31 states prohibit youths age 20 and under from obtaining a concealed carry permit, including one - Missouri - which sets a minimum age of 23.
  • At least 29 states prohibit alcohol abusers from obtaining a concealed carry permit, including South Carolina, which prevents "habitual drunkard[s]" from carrying guns.
  • At least 21 states grant law enforcement agencies discretion to deny carry permits to people who appear especially dangerous, including Alabama, which allows sheriffs to grant or deny licenses based on whether "it appears that the applicant . . . has any . . . proper reason for carrying a pistol, and [whether] he or she is a suitable person to be so licensed."  
  • At least 35 states prohibit persons convicted of certain misdemeanor crimes from carrying concealed firearms, including Pennsylvania, which bars carrying by those who have been convicted of impersonating a law enforcement officer and other misdemeanor offenses.  Research supports these restrictions.  One study found handgun buyers who have been convicted of just one misdemeanor are almost five times as likely to be convicted of a serious violent crime as handgun buyers with no criminal record.    
  • At least 30 states require the completion of a gun safety program or other proof of competency prior to the issuance of a permit, including Nevada, which requires a written exam and live fire training from three different positions with a certified instructor as components of their required gun safety course. [MAIG letter to Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, 3/11/11]

States Currently Determine Whether They Want To Honor Permits From Other States. According to Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG):

Seven states have chosen to honor concealed carry permits issued in any other state and three states allow carrying by nonresidents without a permit.  Eight states, however, choose not to recognize any out-of-state permits.  And 30 states recognize permits only from selected states - typically from states with equivalent or higher standards. [MAIG letter to Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, 3/11/11]

Bill Would Forces States To Recognize Concealed Permits From States With More Lenient Standards. According to Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG):

This legislation would eliminate all of these standards, reducing concealed carry permitting to a new federal lowest common denominator.  Incredibly, it would even allow persons ineligible for a carry permit in their own state to shop around for lower standards in the many states that offer permits to out-of-state residents.  That stratagem would allow a criminal to circumvent laws that would otherwise render him ineligible to carry a concealed handgun. 

While H.R. 822 would not let people carry in their own state of residence using an out-of-state permit, it would allow them to abuse reciprocity to carry concealed handguns in almost every other state. [MAIG letter to Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, 3/11/11]

Former GOP Rep. Davis: Bill's Predecessor Would "Gut State Laws From The Back End." Writing on the Thune amendment, H.R. 822's legislative predecessor, former Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA) explained:

Congress is considering gutting state laws from the back end. Under the amendment proposed by Sen. John Thune, all states would be required to recognize concealed carry permits from all other states, including states that grant permits without regard to criminal records. In Virginia, this would allow convicted criminals to carry weapons onto parks and playgrounds.

The Thune amendment flies in the face of federalist principles by usurping state laws. For instance, in my home state of Virginia, we require individuals to complete firearm safety training and demonstrate proficiency with a handgun. We also prohibit those who have been convicted of certain serious misdemeanors (such as assault or stalking) from obtaining a permit, and we disqualify those who have been convicted of public drunkenness within the past three years or anyone convicted of drunk driving or who is a "habitual drunkard." These are reasonable prohibitions.

Most states have adopted similar restrictions, but under the Thune amendment, potentially violent individuals could obtain permits in the several states that have virtually no standards for issuing concealed carry permits. As a result, they could come to Virginia and walk the streets —- and frequent public places — with concealed guns.

Both philosophically and practically speaking, this is bad public policy. It is a federal power grab that would gut state laws and put innocent lives at risk, including the lives of police officers. [Politico, 7/22/09, emphasis added]

... Even As Reporting Indicates Many States Have Ineffective Permitting Systems

Michigan: Permitting System "In Shambles," Criminal Convictions "Go Unreported." In June, Booth newspapers reported:

Ten years after Michigan made it easier to carry concealed guns, its mandatory process for reporting who has the permits — and who had them taken away — is a shambles.

Records are incomplete. Compliance by counties is spotty. Convictions for crimes go unreported.

It's against the law, but there is no penalty.

Those findings stem from an investigation by Booth newspapers into how well officials across the state are complying with mandates to inform the public whether concealed pistol holders are responsible and law-abiding.

That the information cannot be trusted is a blow to the law's backers. [...]

The probe found the reports the state has released to the public every year for a decade fall far short of reality, especially on the number of convictions and license revocations. Among the reasons:

Gun boards in more than half the 83 counties broke the law by failing to file their annual reports at least once. One county, Shiawassee, has never complied.

Confusion reigns. In some instances, licenses were reinstated after convictions when they were supposed to be revoked. Ottawa County revoked just one license in nine years because of a procedural misunderstanding.

Countless other cases are unaccounted for, either because county licensing boards are not notified of the outcome of criminal charges, or they neglect to take action. Revocations are not completed, so they never show up in public reports. [MLive.com, 6/28/11, emphasis added]

Tennessee: "Dozens Of Shelby Countians With Violent Histories... Have Received Permits." In 2009, the Commercial Appeal reported on Kiandre Sims, a concealed-carry permit holder who sexually assaulted his ex-girlfriend at gunpoint:

Sims is among dozens of Shelby Countians with violent histories who have received permits to carry handguns in Tennessee, according to an investigation by The Commercial Appeal.

The newspaper identified as many as 70 county residents who were issued permits despite arrest histories, some with charges that include robbery, assault, domestic violence and other serious offenses. [...]

State law provides regulators with little or no discretion when issuing permits, unlike some states. Tennessee regulators must issue a permit when an applicant meets certain minimum standards.

Tennessee's "shall-issue" permit rules don't allow discretion to root out applicants such as Sims, gun-control activists say. [Commercial Appeal, 3/12/2009, emphasis added]

Indiana: Permitting System "Breaks Down In Numerous Ways," Enables "People With Troubled And Often Violent Pasts" To Carry. In 2009, The Indianapolis Star reported:

Over the past few months, The Star has examined the gun-permit process, focusing on about 450 permit holders with dubious backgrounds from Marion and Lake counties.

Those counties were chosen because they are large ones where records are most accessible electronically.

In broad terms, The Star found a system that breaks down in numerous ways, enabling people with troubled and often violent pasts to legally keep a loaded gun in their waistbands and on their passenger seats.

More specifically, The Star's investigation found:

State law says a person must be of "good character and reputation" to obtain a permit, but the State Police have not denied a request based on that legal requirement since at least the 1980s.

State law says a person should be denied a permit if there is a "reasonable belief that the person has a propensity for violence." However, State Police often are unaware of extensive police and court records involving violent behavior.

State and federal laws prohibit felons from carrying handguns, but State Police grant permits to those convicted of felonies that are treated as misdemeanors under alternative-sentencing plans.

There is a disconnect between state and local police on who is responsible for thoroughly investigating applicants, which results in the State Police often failing to receive pertinent information. [Indianapolis Star, 10/11/09]

Florida: More Than 1,000 Felons Received Permits. In 2007, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported:

Across Florida, the state has given concealed-weapon licenses to hundreds of people who wouldn't have a chance of getting them in most other states because of their criminal histories. Courts have found them responsible for assaults, burglaries, sexual battery, drug possession, child molestation -- even homicide.

In an investigation of the state's concealed-weapon system, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel found those licensed by Florida to carry guns in the first half of 2006 included:

More than 1,400 people who pleaded guilty or no contest to felonies but qualified because of a loophole in the law.

216 people with outstanding warrants, including a Tampa pizza deliveryman wanted since 2002 in the fatal shooting a 15-year-old boy over a stolen order of chicken wings.

28 people with active domestic-violence injunctions against them, including a Hallandale man who was ordered by a judge to stay away from his former son-in-law after pulling a handgun out of his pocket and telling the man: "I'll blow you away . . ."

Six registered sex offenders.

"I had no idea," said Baker County Sheriff Joey Dobson, who sits on an advisory panel for the state Division of Licensing that issues concealed-weapon permits. "I think the system, somewhere down the line, is broken. I guarantee you the ordinary person doesn't know [that] . . ., and I'd venture to guess that 160 legislators in Florida don't know that either." [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 1/28/07, emphasis added]

Reciprocity Exploitation Already Underway: Pennsylvania Residents Who Don't Quality For Permit Use Loophole To Get One From Florida. From a 2010 Philadelphia Daily News article: 

Pennsylvania residents who are denied a license to carry a concealed weapon, or have theirs revoked, have found a loophole that allows them to get a license from another state that must be honored here.

"They could be disapproved here and they could apply in Florida and we are not notified," said Philadelphia Police Lt. Lisa King, commander of the Gun Permit Unit. "So if we are not giving them a permit to carry, how is Florida allowed to override our decision?" [...]

"You can purchase a firearm but you can't get a permit in Philadelphia to save your life," said Richard Oliver, a firearms instructor in Northeast Philadelphia who teaches safety courses for those seeking permits out of Florida and Utah. "That's what causes people to go to other states to get the permits."

Pennsylvania's firearms reciprocity agreements require the state to recognize permits from 24 other states that have permit laws as strict or stricter than its own and that those states, in turn, recognize Pennsylvania weapons permits.

Among the states covered, there are three - Florida, Utah and New Hampshire - that allow out-of-state residents to get permits even if they don't qualify or apply for permits in their home state.

Locally, though, it's become known as the "Florida loophole" because that's where most of the out-of-state permits are coming from, according to police and prosecutors.

[...]

Oliver said that he teaches the gun-safety courses for out-of-state permits about eight times a year, and that about 25 percent of his students are people who've been denied a Philadelphia permit. [Philadelphia Daily News, 2/5/10, emphasis added]

Reciprocity Advocates Claim Concealed Carry Reduces Crime....

NRA's LaPierre: "Violent Crime In Jurisdictions That Recognize The Right To Carry Is Lower." During his February 2011 speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre said:

National Right to Carry is a concept long overdue in the face of government's failure to provide for the security of its citizens. More good people carrying firearms not only gives the law-abiding a fighting chance against violent criminals ... it helps protect everyone.

Recent history proves it. Right now, nearly 7 million law-abiding Americans legally carry a concealed firearm, in almost every state in the country. And across the board, violent crime in jurisdictions that recognize the Right to Carry is lower than in areas that prevent it. The whole flock is safer when the wolves can't tell the difference between the lions and the lambs.

The Right to Carry proves that empowering Americans — giving them the freedom to protect themselves — protects us all. [LaPierre speech, 2/10/11, via nra.org, emphasis original]

...But Experts Say Crime Data Shows No Such Correlation...

PolitiFact Called Claim That Right-To-Carry Laws Reduce Violent Crime "False." In a February 16 post, PolitiFact reported:

We found the the [sic] states without "right to carry" were spread out across the list, not bunched together at the top. The District of Columbia, which has strict gun control laws, ranked highest for violent crime. The other states ranked as follows: Delaware, No. 5; Maryland, No. 10; Illinois, No. 13; California, No. 17; Massachusetts, No. 18; New York, No. 24; New Jersey, No. 30; Hawaii, No. 36; Wisconsin, No. 39, and Rhode Island, No. 42.

We also couldn't help noticing that some states with laws that favor gun ownership placed at different points along the list. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence rates state gun laws, so we looked at the 14 states that had the weakest gun laws. Here, we also saw a wide variation in where the states ranked in terms of violent crime: Alaska, No. 6; Louisiana, No. 7; New Mexico, No. 8; Arkansas, No. 11; Oklahoma, No. 12; Missouri, No. 15; Arizona, No. 21; West Virginia, No. 32; Kentucky, No. 38; Montana, No. 41; Idaho, No. 44; Utah, No. 47; North Dakota, No. 48, and South Dakota, No. 49.

So using the 2009 data, we don't see any evidence that state gun laws correlate with violent crime rates one way or the other, at least not "across the board" as LaPierre suggested in his speech.

[...]

We do not find that current crime statistics support this point. Some academics have said trends over time show that "right to carry" laws lower crime rates, but that argument is contested. There's certainly not straight-line correlation between states with "right to carry" laws and crime rates. LaPierre made it sound like the data clearly supported his view. They don't. We rate his statement False. [PolitiFact, 2/16/11]

John Donohue: Empirical Evidence Refutes Claim That Right-To-Carry Laws Would Reduce Crime. In a New York Times post, Stanford Law professor John Donohue wrote: "[W]hile some early studies by John Lott and others suggested that state policies providing greater freedom to carry guns would reduce crime, empirical evidence refutes this view. Wise gun policy and individual consumer choice to carry weapons involves weighing competing probabilities." [New York Times, 1/11/11]

NRC Committee: "Not Possible To Determine ... Causal Link Between The Passage Of Right-To-Carry Laws And Crime Rates." In 2004, a National Research Council (NRC) committee released a report on right-to-carry laws and their effects on crime which concluded:  

The literature on right-to-carry laws summarized in this chapter has obtained conflicting estimates of their effects on crime. Estimation results have proven to be very sensitive to the precise specification used and time period examined. The initial model specification, when extended to new data, does not show evidence that passage of right-to-carry laws reduces crime. The estimated effects are highly sensitive to seemingly minor changes in the model specification and control variables. No link between right-to-carry laws and changes in crime is apparent in the raw data, even in the initial sample; it is only once numerous covariates are included that the negative results in the early data emerge. While the trend models show a reduction in the crime growth rate following the adoption of right-to-carry laws, these trend reductions occur long after law adoption, casting serious doubt on the proposition that the trend models estimated in the literature reflect effects of the law change. Finally, some of the point estimates are imprecise. Thus, the committee concludes that with the current evidence it is not possible to determine that there is a causal link between the passage of right-to-carry laws and crime rates. [Firearms and Violence, Committee on Law and Justice, National Research Council, 2004, emphasis added]

2010 Study Concurs With NRC Committee's Conclusion But Added That Panel Data Suggests "RTC Laws Likely Increase The Rate Of Aggravated Assault." In a June 2010 study re-examining the NRC committee's analysis on the effects that right-to-carry laws on crime rates, Donohue and professors Abhay Aneja and Alex Zhang concluded:

Finally, despite our belief that the NRC's analysis was imperfect in certain ways, we agree with the committee's cautious final judgment on the effects of RTC laws: "with the current evidence it is not possible to determine that there is a causal link between the passage of right-to-carry laws and crime rates." Our results here further underscore the sensitivity of guns-crime estimates to modeling decisions. If one had to make judgments based on panel data models of the type used in the NRC report, one would have to conclude that RTC laws likely increase the rate of aggravated assault. Further research will be needed to see if this conclusion survives as more data and better methodologies are employed to estimate the impact of RTC laws on crime. ["The Impact of Right-to-Carry Laws and the NRC Report: Lessons for the Empirical Evaluation of Law and Policy," 6/29/10, emphasis added]

Study Finds "Weak Evidence That RTC Laws Increase Or Decrease The Number Of Public Mass Shootings." A November 2002 study by criminologists Grant Duwe, Tomislav Kovandzic, and Carlisle Moody analyzing 25 right-to-carry laws found "virtually no support for the hypothesis that the laws increase or reduce the number of mass public shootings." ["The Impact of Right-To-Carry Concealed Firearm Laws on Mass Public Shootings," November 2002]

  • Criminologist Citing 2002 Study: "[T]he Effects Of RTC Laws Are Negligible, Neither Encouraging Nor Discouraging Mass Murder." In a January 12 post on The Boston Globe's Crime & Punishment blog, James Alan Fox, professor of Criminology, Law, and Public Policy at Northeastern University, cited the 2002 study by Duwe, Kovandzic, and Moody, writing:

[T]he effectiveness of concealed-carry laws in deterring mass murder is an empirical question, one that has been examined thoroughly by criminologists Grant Duwe, Tomislav Kovandzic, and Carlisle Moody. Using fairly sophisticated analytic techniques, they assessed the extent to which enactment of various RTC laws in 25 states across the country were associated with any change in the incidence of public mass shootings in the years from 1977 through 1999. Based on their estimates, the effects of RTC laws are negligible, neither encouraging nor discouraging mass murder. [Boston Globe's Crime & Punishment blog, 1/12/11

... With Some Experts Saying That Concealed-Carry May Harm Police Efforts And Increase Crime

Donohue's 2002 Study Finds "Stronger Evidence For The Conclusion" That Concealed-Carry Increases Crime Rather Than Decreases It. In a 2002 study titled, "Shooting Down the More Guns, Less Crime Hypothesis," Donohue and Yale Law professor Ian Ayres wrote:

While we do not want to overstate the strength of the conclusions that can be drawn from the extremely variable results emerging from the statistical analysis, if anything, there is stronger evidence for the conclusion that these laws increase crime than there is for the conclusion that they decrease it.

[...]

No longer can any plausible case be made on statistical grounds that shall-issue laws are likely to reduce crime for all or even most states. [Donohue and Ayres, "Shooting Down the More Guns, Less Crime Hypothesis," October 2002]

Daniel Webster: "Permissive Right-To-Carry Laws Could Make It Harder For Police ... To Deter Gun Violence." In a New York Times post, Daniel Webster, co-director at the Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, wrote:

[L]aws prohibiting gun-carrying are an important tool for police to use to suppress the practice in so-called hot spots for shootings. Police units focused on deterring illegal gun-carrying have been the most consistently effective approach to reducing gun violence. Permissive right-to-carry laws could make it harder for police to use this law to deter gun violence. [The New York Times, 1/11/11]

Webster: "Permissive Right-To-Carry Laws" May Actually Increase Crime. In his New York Times post, Webster also wrote:

When mass shootings occur, many think that, if only one of the citizens at the site had access to a firearm, they could have taken the gunman out and saved lives. That's an odd argument to make in a state where probably more people carry guns than in any other state.

While you can find an example to prove this point, it begs the question of whether it's sound public policy to allow anyone who is not prohibited by our weak gun laws to carry firearms anywhere they choose. It is not clear that permissive right-to-carry laws haven't increased violence. There have been numerous studies of these laws, many of which have substantial flaws. The best study was done by Ian Ayres and John Donohue, law professors at Yale and Stanford, respectively, and disaggregates the effects for each state and type of crime.

The estimates from their best models show right-to-carry laws associated with increases in 7 of 9 crimes studied, with the largest effect (+9 percent) being the crime many researchers would have hypothesized would increase -- aggravated assaults. [The New York Times, 1/11/11]

Violence Policy Center: Texas Record On Concealed-Carry Shows License Holders Arrested For More Than 5,000 Crimes Over Five Years. A 2002 report by the Violence Policy Center found:

According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas concealed handgun license holders were arrested for a total of 5,314 crimes from January 1, 1996, to August 31, 2001. Crimes for which license holders were arrested include: murder/attempted murder (including attempted murder of police officer), kidnapping, rape/sexual assault, assault, weapon-related offenses, drug-related offenses, burglary, and theft. [VPC.org, 07/02]

Law Enforcement Groups Oppose Concealed-Carry Reciprocity

Police Foundation: Legislation "Would Endanger" Police Officers. From a July 6, 2011, letter from Police Foundation president Hubert Williams to House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX):

The Police Foundation is strongly opposed to H.R. 822, the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of  2011.

[...]

[T]his law would not only frustrate our police officers, it would endanger them. Policing our streets and confronting the risks inherent in even routine traffic stops is already perilous enough without increasing the number of guns that officers encounter. Ambiguity as to the legality of firearm possession could lead to confusion among police officers that could result in catastrophic incidences. Congress should be working to make the job of a police officer more safe, not less. [Police Foundation letter, 7/6/11]

Association Of Prosecuting Attorneys: Bill Would "Compromise Public Safety And Make The Jobs Of Police Officers Far More Difficult And Dangerous." In a letter to Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys President and CEO David LaBahn wrote:

On behalf of APA, I write to express concern regarding the public safety implications of National Concealed Carry Reciprocity legislation (H.R.822). The legislation would override existing state laws and force states to accept concealed carry permits from residents of every other state, regardless of whether they have similar standards for issuing permits. This federal preemption would create significant difficulties for law enforcement officers by undermining state and municipal laws, increase the danger involved in car stops and make it more difficult for prosecutors to evenly enforce criminal gun possession laws.

[...]

As prosecutors, our most important goal is to keep our communities safe by evenly and effectively enforcing our laws in the criminal courts to hold offenders accountable for their actions. State and local law enforcement are in the best position to determine what criminal justice polices work best in the communities. Prosecutors seek equal justice under the law for all individuals; weakening concealed carry permit standards would compromise public safety and make the jobs of police officers far more difficult and dangerous. I urge you to consider the effects that a federal concealed carry law will have on the safety of police officers and the safety of communities nationwide. [APA letter, 8/5/11]

International Association Of Chiefs Of Police: "Strong Opposition" To Bill. In a letter to House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, IACP President Mark A. Marshall wrote:

On behalf of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), I am writing to express our strong opposition to H.R. 822, the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011.  This bill would weaken existing state laws by allowing an individual to carry concealed firearms when visiting another state or the District of Columbia as long as the individual was entitled to carry concealed firearms pursuant to the laws of his or her home state. ... The IACP urges you to act quickly and take all necessary steps to defeat this dangerous and unacceptable legislation. [IACP letter, 7/1/11]

Major Cities Chiefs Association: Bill Is "Dangerous And Unconstitutional." In a letter to Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Major Cities Chiefs Association President Charles H. Ramsey wrote:

We are confident that members of Congress will respect the authority of states, counties and cities to adopt their own regulations regarding weapons and will not act with disregard for the many reasonable and prudent laws already in place across the Nation.

Chiefs of Police call upon you to vote against this dangerous and unconstitutional legislation. [MCCA letter, 6/30/11]

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