|Rep. Clifford B. Stearns (R.-FL)|
A bill promising the most significant expansion of national gun rights since the current gun control regime began with the Handgun Control Act of 1968, passed the House 272 to 154 November 16 at 5:50 p.m. after two days of debate.
“The right to defend yourself and your loved ones from criminals is fundamental, and it should not be extinguished when you cross a state border,” said Rep. Clifford B. Stearns (R.-FL), who lead the fight with his co-sponsor Rep. J. Heath Shuler (D.-N.C.), a leader of the caucus of moderate Democrats known as the Blue Dogs.
“H.R. 822, the National Right to Carry Reciprocity Act, recognizes this important fact by establishing the interstate recognition of concealed carry permits in much the same way driver’s licenses are recognized,” said Stearns.
“Although 49 states issue these permits and many have reciprocity agreements with other states, the lack of uniformity makes it hard for law-abiding permit holders to know for sure if they are obeying the law as they travel from state to state,” he said.
“This legislation will simply make it far easier for law-abiding permit holders to know they are in compliance with the law when they carry a firearm as they travel,” he said.
Despite the mix of Democrats and Republicans voting for the bill, there have been critics.
On the Left, Sen. Scott P. Brown (R.-Mass.), who won a special election to succeed Edward M. Kennedy Sr., a ferocious opponent of gun rights after two of his brothers were cut down by assassin bullets, sent a November 3 “Dear Friend” letter to Bay State mayors assuring them that he would oppose the bill if the matter came before the Senate.
Brown, who was endorsed and strongly supported in his election by the National Rifle Association, echoed the arguments of other liberals when he called the bill a violation of states’ rights.
Christopher W. Cox, the executive director of NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, said, “NRA has made the
National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act a priority because it enhances the fundamental right to self-defense guaranteed to all law-abiding people.”
Cox said the reciprocity for regular people should be as easy as the current practice between states for recognizing carry permits held by armored car guards.
“People are not immune from crime when they cross state lines. That is why it is vital for them to be able to defend themselves and their loved ones should the need arise,” he said.
Another gun rights organization, Gun Owners of America, had concerns about the bill, preferring H.R. 2900, sponsored by Rep. Paul Broun (R.-Ga.).
One problem with H.R. 822 is that it destroys “Vermont Carry,” said John Velleco, GOA’s director of federal affairs.
“In Vermont, it has long been the case that law-abiding residents and non-residents alike could carry a concealed firearm, except for use in the commission of a crime,” he said. “The state, incidentally, also has the distinction of consistently being ranked one of the safest states in the country.”
The problem is that because there is no permit, there is nothing for another state to recognize, he said.
Broun’s bill would allow the Vermont driver’s license to suffice, he said.
Another problem is that constitutionally, the Stearns-Shuler bill relies on the Commerce Clause, and the bill’s authority is grounded in the act of transporting guns across interstate lines being classified as commerce, he said. This stretch opens the legislation to court challenge.
The Broun bill is grounded in the Second Amendment, he said.
“H.R. 822 would certainly benefit many Americans, although that number represents only a small fraction of all gun owners. But the bill has several deep flaws that could be fixed by Broun’s legislation,” Velleco said.
To mitigate to flaws in the Stearns-Shuler bill, GOA supported an amendment by Rep. W. Robert “Rob” Woodall III (R.-Ga.), which would assert that existing arrangements between states, such as 40 states have with each other, would supersede federal standards of reciprocity regulations, he said.
“This will help to ensure that states are not deterred from seeking out reciprocity agreements and it acts as a check against future federal abuse of the nation’s gun laws,” he said.
Now it is the Senate’s turn to act.
All eyes are Sen. John R. Thune (R.-S.D.). Thune attempted to gain Senate approval for reciprocity for national concealed carry in the last session of Congress with legislation very close to the language in the Broun bill. Ultimately, however, Thune fell two votes short of the 60 votes he needed to end a Democratic filibuster.