Mere weeks after Las Vegas, the GOP is quietly pushing a gun-lover’s pipe dream
Hank Johnson displays his handgun in Springboro, Ohio on Feb. 27, 2013. (Al Behrman / Associated Press)
For a few days after the Las Vegas sniper attack, it seemed as if Congress might actually move to ban the device known as the “bump stock,” which the gunman used to convert his semiautomatic rifles into, essentially, machine guns that could fire 90 shots in 10 seconds into a crowded music festival. That moment — like so many before it — seems to have passed. So what gun policy measure are lawmakers discussing in Congress these days? An absurd yet dangerous proposal that would drastically undercut states’ abilities to set reasonable rules about who gets to carry a weapon.
The proposed federal law, the so-called Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017, would require any state that issues permits for carrying concealed weapons to recognize concealed-carry permits issued by other states — even if those states have different eligibility and training requirements and less stringent restrictions on gun ownership. In the House, the measure has picked up 212 co-sponsors (including three Democrats); a companion Senate bill has 38 co-sponsors, signaling significant support.
The National Rifle Assn. has made passing the reciprocity bill its legislative priority for this session. The rest of the nation should make it a priority to stop this madness. It is little more than cynical gamesmanship by the NRA and its martinets in Congress. It needs to be shot down.
Proponents of the bill argue that a permit to carry a concealed weapon is similar to a driver’s license and should be recognized nationwide. But that’s cooked-up logic. States observe similar traffic laws and training requirements before issuing driver’s licenses. That’s not so with guns. In fact, a dozen states put no restrictions at all on who gets to carry a concealed firearm so long as people meet minimal federal qualifications for being able to buy a gun. Other states should not be forced to live under such loose rules if they don’t believe those rules to be safe. Gun owners from Arizona, where no permit is required for carrying a concealed weapon, should not be allowed to wander armed into a state such as California, which has some of the strictest gun controls in the country, without meetings its requirements.
Given the Republicans’ historic support of states’ rights, it’s a bit rich that they are now seeking a federal law to trump state laws on something so crucial to public safety as gun ownership, We hope members of Congress have closely read the studies that have found that states with the most-relaxed gun-control laws tend to have higher rates of gun deaths than states with tighter controls.
The constitutionality of a gun reciprocity law is unclear. If states have a right to determine who may carry a gun — which the courts have recognized — then is Congress within its rights to let the NRA in through the back door? In any case, such an approach is, as we have argued before, a race to the bottom, in which the least restrictive state laws will be the ones that govern the whole country.
Previous versions of this gun-lover’s pipe dream have stalled in Congress, but with the Republicans now in control of both houses and the White House — and with the support of gun-friendly Democrats — there is a very real chance this reckless bill might actually get somewhere. Gun-control groups have been actively trying to stir up opposition, and a group of 17 Democratic attorneys general — including California’s Xavier Becerra — sent a letter to congressional leaders over the weekend urging them to block the “ill-conceived bills that would override local public safety decisions and endanger our communities and law enforcement officers.”
There is no reason for this law to exist other than to feed the fantasy that an even more heavily armed nation would be a safer nation. That is simply untrue. Congress would better serve the nation’s public health and safety by ignoring this bit of legislative subterfuge and focusing its attention instead on fixing the federal law that allowed the Las Vegas shooter to convert a firearm that ought to be banned into one that already has been.