With the passage of Wisconsin’s concealed carry legislation this year, 49 states now have some sort of concealed carry law on their books. Of those, 36 states have “shall issue” right-to-carry laws comparable to Wisconsin’s. Only Illinois, which predictably also frowns upon open carry, stands completely alone in denying its citizens the right to bear their arms.
The 49 states that do feature some sort of concealed carry on their books have different regulatory schemes, different requirements to acquire a permit, and different rules about where guns may and may not be carried. They also differ in one other important way—reciprocity. Reciprocity is the legal process by which one state may recognize the laws of another, as they do with driver’s licenses for example. Many states do in fact recognize permits from certain other states, but many others do not, or their recognition is limited to certain states. Without recognition of an out of state concealed carry permit, a law abiding citizen must then obey the wide variety of state laws regarding firearm possession and transport for non permit holders. This makes it legally risky for folks taking a simple family vacation from Missouri to Pennsylvania, for example, to bring a self protection firearm along with them. There are websites online which can act as a guide for law-abiding gun owners to navigate this confusing situation, but the fact that they exist at all drives home the point that the hodgepodge of state laws are difficult to understand and follow. And if you’re a trucker who sees several different states each week, the 2nd Amendment probably seems more like something you just read about online than a basic human right which could save your life someday.
U.S. House of Representatives members Cliff Stearns (R-FL) and Heath Schuler (D-NC) have a solution. In February 2011 they introduced HR 822, a national right-to-carry reciprocity bill that, if passed, would force every state to recognize the concealed carry rights of visitors with concealed carry permits from their home state. That’s it. No national ID card, no national database of concealed carry permit holders, just the radical yet simple notion that states should recognize each other’s concealed carry permits as they do a driver’s license. Surprisingly, HR 822 has its basis in existing federal law. Due to the Armored Car Reciprocity Act of 1993, every state, including Illinois, currently recognizes the permits carried by employees of Armored Car companies to carry firearms in their vehicles and on their persons. How simple is that? While this may seem like a simple change, getting the bill through Congress and signed by the President will be anything but. Representative Stearns has filed a version of this right to carry reciprocity bill every year since 1995, which means that the bill has failed for sixteen straight years. Like seeds planted in barren earth, each bill has withered and died. But there are some indications that the bill’s chances are improving. The landmark legal case of District of Columbia vs. Heller affirmed in 2008 that the 2nd Amendment protects an individual right, not a collective right. The Heller decision now backs up HR 822 from the standpoint of constitutional law, but more than that, it has helped turn the tide of legislation in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere.
While the BATFE and the Justice Department are reeling from scandals involving the government’s involvement in trafficking firearms from the United States to Mexico and Honduras, there are indications that this Congress is refusing to go along with gun control proposals. The House of Representatives has adopted a provision protecting gun possession on land owned by the Army Corps of Engineers, and has shot down two anti-gun schemes by the BATFE and the Justice Department by removing funding from them. By contrast, HR 822 now has 241 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives, more than half the total number of members. The bill is currently before the House sub-committee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security. If it can be successfully attached to an important piece of legislation coming through that committee, it is feasible that President Obama would sign it into law as part of a larger package, as he did with a bill allowing concealed carry in National Parks in May 2009.
With every state but one having concealed carry on the books, more than half of the House of Representatives co-sponsoring this bill, a recent Supreme Court decision affirming the 2nd Amendment, and a president who has previously signed pro-concealed carry legislation into law, is national concealed carry reciprocity an idea whose time has come? Cliff Stearns and Heath Schuler think so. They have been watering this tree with care and have watched it grow over time. Is the fruit of their labors finally getting ripe? Will the mishmash of conflicting laws be replaced by a simple edict that the states are to respect the rights of each others’ citizens?