Lawmakers sabotage a bipartisan push to improve gun safetyOn December 10, 2017 by Zander
THE slaughter of 58 people at a country-music festival in Las Vegas in October, by a man with a cache of 47 firearms, prompted fresh calls for gun-law reform. A month later a man shot dead 26 worshippers in a church in Texas. For a moment it seemed as though these horrors—and the fact that the shooter in Texas had a criminal record that had never been entered into national criminal databases—might inspire political change. In mid-November, Republican and Democratic senators joined forces to introduce the Fix NICS Act, which aims to ensure federal agencies and states report relevant criminal records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. But instead of allowing this crucial act to stand on its own merits, Republicans in the House of Representatives combined it with a more controversial act that will probably kill the Fix NICS Act.
The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017 seeks to treat concealed carry permits like drivers licences. Once someone receives a permit to carry a loaded, hidden weapon in one state the permission would automatically extend to America’s other 49 states. Tacked onto the Fix NICS act, the bill passed by a margin of 33 votes on December 6th.
Currently, states set their own rules about who is eligible to carry concealed handguns in public. The most restrictive eight states, which are called “may-issue” states and include California, New Jersey and New York, give police and sheriff’s departments discretion over how to grant permits. In addition to meeting basic requirements such as being old enough (21 in most states for handgun ownership) and passing background checks, concealed carry applicants may also need to demonstrate their “good character” or prove the need for a hidden gun, such as fear of an abusive ex-partner. Certain large cities—New York and Los Angeles, for example—approve very few applications.
Thirty states and the District of Columbia, known as “shall-issue” states, give concealed carry permits to any applicants who meet their legal requirements for owning a handgun. Most of these states also require safety training. The remaining 12 states, which include Arizona, West Virginia and New Hampshire, do not require any permit or training to carry a concealed gun. Officials in such states do not have the power to deny concealed carry permit requests from “dangerous people”; 11 of the 12 grant permits even to those applicants who have been convicted of violent crimes.
If passed in the Senate, the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act would effectively extend the weakest gun rules across the country. It would allow a resident of West Virginia to drive to New York City, Trenton or Baltimore, where it is difficult to get concealed carry permits, and legally stroll around with a gun tucked in their waistband. Some states—Utah and Virginia, for example—also issue concealed carry permits to non-residents remotely. With “Concealed Carry Reciprocity”, a resident of Los Angeles, where only a few hundred people have concealed carry permits, could apply for a non-resident permit from Utah by mail and tote a gun as they cruise around Hollywood or take their kids to the Santa Monica Pier.
The bill will also make things harder for police. It mandates that they cannot stop people on suspicion of carrying a weapon without evidence that they are doing so illegally. This would require officers to somehow discern that a person does not hold a concealed carry permit from another state or hail from a place (like West Virginia) where such permits are not required. Kevin Davis, Commissioner of the Baltimore Police Department, says this makes it unlikely that police will ask to verify a gun holder’s permit at all—and renders an already dangerous job more dangerous. “I’m embarrassed we’re even talking about this,” he says.
Proponents of the bill argue that it will make America safer. After all, they insist, the Texas shooter was partially brought down by an armed civilian who shot him in the leg and torso. On “Hannity”, on Fox News, Wayne LaPierre, the head of the National Rifle Association (NRA) said of the bill: “The elites always protect themselves and they always protect themselves with guns. And then they lecture the American public about how you shouldn’t do that…what the NRA is fighting for is reciprocity, to enforce the existing federal gun laws and to protect Americans’ right to protect themselves.”
But while armed civilians may help to thwart violence in a few cases, such instances are rare. A 2014 report published by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) stated that between 2000 and 2013 armed civilians stopped only 3% of active shooting incidents. Meanwhile mounting evidence suggests concealed carry policies (also called “right-to-carry” laws) correlate with more, not less, violence. John Donohue, a law professor at Stanford University, and several other researchers recently found states that never adopted right-to-carry policies reduced violent crime by 42.3% between 1977 and 2014 compared to an 8.7% dip over the same period for those that did institute right-to-carry. Another recent study found that shall-issue laws were associated with 10.6% higher handgun homicide rates compared with may-issue laws.
The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act’s fate in the Senate is uncertain. The bill would need to attract votes from eight Democrats, which it looks unlikely to do. If it flounders, it is likely to drag the Fix NICS Act down with it, returning America to its normal state after a slew of mass shootings: inertia.