On July 22, 2009, the U.S. Senate took an important step toward greater legal protection of the fundamental right to self-defense in our country when 58 U.S. senators--38 Republicans and 20 Democrats--voted for legislation to require carry-permit states to recognize each others` permits. Building on past legislation, such as reciprocity bills introduced by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., beginning in 1995, the Law Enforcement Officers` Safety Act of 2007 (which allows active and retired officers to carry nationwide), and the Coburn amendment that will allow concealed carry in national parks and wildlife refuges beginning early next year, Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., and David Vitter, R-La., introduced the national reciprocity proposal as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act.
While the amendment fell shy of the 60 votes needed--a procedural hurdle that was necessary to defeat a filibuster threatened by anti-gun Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.--its near-passage showed that the Right to Keep and Bear Arms is increasingly respected on Capitol Hill by Democrats and Republicans alike. The Washington Post, which prior to the vote called national Right-to-Carry a "frightening prospect," admitted that the amendment`s bipartisan support ". . . demonstrated the continuing power of the National Rifle Association and the gun rights issue in Congress."
A national Right-to-Carry reciprocity law has always made sense. People have a right to defend themselves that doesn`t end at state lines. In its Heller decision last year, the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment "guarantee[s] the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation," and nothing in that decision limited this right to the state in which an individual lives.
Such a law is especially necessary today, because while 47 states issue carry permits in some way, only 11 of them recognize all other states` permits. Twenty-five states recognize permits from a limited number of other states. Eleven--including the huge states of California and New York--recognize no other states` permits. (Vermont requires no permits for residents or nonresidents.)
No debate over Right-to-Carry would be complete without nonsense from gun control supporters. The debate over the Thune-Vitter amendment was no exception.
Just before the vote on the amendment, the Brady Campaign and Violence Policy Center released lists of small numbers of crimes and other incidents involving permit-holders over the years, as if to suggest that these problems would be the norm if the amendment became law.
But the lists were exceedingly short and included many incidents in which a carry permit was irrelevant (such as crimes committed in private homes). They also included incidents in which no concealed firearm was involved or where no crime was committed.
These gaps in the anti-gun groups` desperate propaganda underscored the fact that, as Sen. Thune put it, ". . . permit holders have demonstrated that they are overwhelmingly law-abiding and responsible in the exercise of their rights." Statistics from Right-to-Carry states back that up. In Florida, for example, where over 1.57 million permits were issued since 1987, authorities have revoked just 167 (about 0.01 percent) due to gun-related crimes by permit holders.
Outrageous claims abounded among anti-gun senators as well. Sen. Schumer claimed that if the amendment became law, a juvenile gang member from New York could obtain a permit in Vermont, buy handguns there, shove them in a backpack, walk the streets of New York City trafficking the guns to criminals, and use the carry permit to satisfy the curiosity of any NYPD officer who might notice.
That absurd scenario provoked a spirited rebuttal from Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., who knew that Vermont does not issue carry permits, that juveniles are generally prohibited from buying and possessing handguns, and that no police officer could be fooled in the way Schumer suggested. In an excellent speech on the Senate floor, Sen. Webb said, "My colleague from New York gave as an example, in his terms, a Crip or a Blood moving to Vermont . . . I think the reality of that particular situation is that the gang members already have their guns. They don`t need this bill. In fact, this amendment has protections that would prevent those who engage in criminal activity, such as gang members, from taking advantage of this legislation. And the people who need this bill are the ones the gang members might be threatening."
I encourage all NRA members to thank their senators who voted for the Thune-Vitter amendment, with special thanks to Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., for guaranteeing the amendment came to a vote. It took nearly 20 years to make Right-to-Carry the law in 40 states. With steadfast devotion to our cause, we hope it won`t take nearly as long to make Right-to-Carry the law of the land.