In his speech at the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) annual meeting last Friday, President Trump reiterated his unwavering support for the organization and its anti-gun violence prevention agenda, promising “to the NRA—I will never let you down!” As Congress considers legislation that would virtually eliminate states’ gun permitting regimes, President Trump’s promise could turn out to be a threat to public safety.
If there is a bright light in efforts to address gun violence, it is the work that state and local governments have pursued in recent years to enact sensible regulations. In 2016, for example, voters in California, Nevada* and Washington State approved gun violence prevention ballot measures to, among other things, expand background checks and enhance mechanisms to remove firearms from those determined to be a danger to themselves or others. Since the 2008 landmark ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, the federal judiciary has also largely upheld the right of states and cities to protect their residents from gun violence through these and other types of regulations, including restrictions on carrying concealed weapons.
Earlier this year, however, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) introduced legislation that could hamstring these local efforts and undermine states’ ability to determine their own gun policy. Sen. Cornyn’s Constitutional Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act and its House companion bill would permit anyone allowed to conceal carry in their home state (including residents of states that require no permit for concealed carry) to conceal carry in any state, regardless of that state’s gun laws. The House version of the bill goes one step further and enables residents to circumvent their own state’s conceal carry permitting requirements by allowing them to apply for a permit from another state with less restrictive gun regulations. This would give one state the power to essentially nullify all other states’ conceal carry laws and nationalize the most relaxed permitting requirements.
Currently, states regulate the carrying of a concealed weapon in one of three ways. “May issue” states, of which there are nine, give full discretion to the official responsible for granting permits. In these states, even an applicant meeting the statutory requirements may be denied a permit if the permitting authority determines, for example, that there are concerns about the applicant’s character or the reason for requesting the permit. In “shall issue” states, the responsible official must grant a permit to any person who meets the statutory qualifications. In about half of “shall issue” states, the official may deny an otherwise qualified applicant in limited circumstances, such as if they appear to be a danger to themselves or others. Finally, eleven states allow residents to carry a concealed weapon without a permit (although all of these states do issue permits to those who wish to apply).
Most “may issue” states, and a few “shall issue,” require that an applicant show good cause for needing the permit beyond a generalized need for self-protection. This most commonly requires a showing of a particularized reason why the applicant needs a concealed weapon for self-protection, such as a tangible, present threat to the applicant’s or their family’s safety. Courts have generally upheld these requirements as permissible under the Second Amendment.
Concealed carry reciprocity throws each state’s carefully evaluated gun violence prevention policies out the window in favor of an NRA-endorsed race to the bottom. Ironically, during his speech last Friday, President Trump declared “Our administration will always stand with the incredible men and women of law enforcement.” Yet the Trump administration and its congressional allies ignore law enforcement opposition to concealed carry reciprocity legislation, including from the Major Cities Chiefs Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Police Foundation, the Police Executive Research Forum and numerous others. Their opposition is based on concerns that, if passed, this legislation “could create potentially life-threatening situations for law enforcement officers and others. During traffic stops, it would be nearly impossible for police to verify the validity of nearly 50 different carry permits, forcing officers to make split-second decisions for their own safety in an already dangerous situation.” The last thing we need is to increase police officer's fear of potentially armed citizens that can result in the unnecessary use of excessive force.
The majority of the country has decided that in their states sensible regulation of those who seek to carry a concealed weapon is important to maintaining public safety. The NRA, its allies in Congress, and its unwavering friend in the White House have no place upending that popular will.
*Nevada’s attorney general has thus far blocked enforcement of the state’s recently approved background check measure.