H.R. 822: National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011

On Wednesday I wrote an article about a new CCW reciprocity agreement between Louisiana and Ohio and I ended the article with the following statement, “Hopefully, one day all states will recognize a single CCW reciprocity agreement.”

Well, a few days ago the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing with respect to H.R. 822: National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011.  This bill, if passed, would fulfill our hope for a single CCW reciprocity agreement.

I’ll discuss the hearing in a moment, but here is what the sponsor of the bill, Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL), told reporters back in February 2011, when this bill was first introduced, regarding what this bill would mean to individuals with CCW permits, “Today, 48 states have laws permitting concealed carry of a firearm in some circumstances, and this legislation would allow any person with a valid state-issued concealed firearm carry permit or license to carry a concealed handgun in any other state.”

In addition to the basic explanation of what this bill would do, another important point about how it would function was mentioned by Sterns’ colleague, Rep. Health Shuler (D-NC), also back in February, “It is important to note this bill would not create a federal licensing system.  It would merely require states to recognize each other’s carry permits, just as they recognize drivers` licenses and carry permits held by armored car guards.”

I have to say that the two witnesses representing the pro-gun side, Ms. Joyce Lee Malcolm and Mr. David B. Kopel did a fabulous job at explaining how H.R. 822 makes not only commonsense, but Constitutional sense.  That is to say the essence of the argument for H.R. 822 is we have a Constitutional right to defend ourselves via the Second Amendment and because interstate travel is also protected under the Constitution, our freedoms should not be restricted when we travel through one state to the next.

Now there were many arguments against the bill.  And the witness there who voiced them was Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey.

He claimed that the right to carry a concealed weapon should be decided by each individual state and not by the federal government.  A bill that grants universal reciprocity effectively undermines a state’s autonomy to issue CCW permits.   He gave an example of how individuals can take advantage of current reciprocity agreements to obtain CCW permits.  He cited the story of a Pennsylvania man who drove down to Florida to obtain a CCW permit after his rights had been stripped in PA after he was involved in criminal activity (FL and PA have a reciprocity agreement).

Commissioner Ramsey stated, “Despite his record, he then used his Florida permit to carry a loaded gun in Philadelphia.”  Ramsey continued, “He eventually shot a teenager thirteen times in the chest killing him on the street.”

His example was quickly shot down by a committee Representative, who was a former Florida police officer, who pointed out that the murderer’s criminal record had been expunged and there was no way for Florida officers to know that he had been convicted in the past so he was issued a CCW.

In any event, that instance was an outlier and even Ramsey admitted that it wasn’t the norm.  But I think it goes to show some of the specious arguments that were being made by opponents of the bill.

With all that said, I honestly don’t believe H.R. 822 will pass in its current form even though it makes all the sense in the world.  Here are the three main reasons:

1.  Standards.  Currently each state has different standards for issuing CCW permits.  This was discussed at length during the hearing.  If one state requires a background check and firearms training and another state only requires a background check, then there exists the potential for people to shop around for CCW permits, the idea being that people would go to the state with the laxest requirements.

2.  No national registry for CCW permits.  For driver’s licenses, police officers have a national database that they can access either on their computers or by calling back to headquarters.  With CCW permits, there is no national registry.  There is also no uniform template for what a CCW should look like.  Some include photos with lamination; others are simply strips of paper that, according to some, can be easily forged.

3.  It needs to pass through the Senate (I think it the potential to pass through House) and I don’t see this happening.  Not with all the political infighting that’s been going on.  And even if it did pass through both Houses of Congress, I don’t see Obama signing it.

My first two concerns are easily remedied.  And hopefully lawmakers will make some amendments to the bill that address those areas.  The last concern is something that we can’t fix until the 2012 election.

H.R. 822 should be a source for optimism.  As it is the farthest a national reciprocity agreement has made it in the legislative process.  The House Judiciary Committee will vote on it in the coming months to decide whether it should go before the House of Representatives.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

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