On Tuesday, Sept. 13, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security held a hearing on H.R. 822, the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011.
The bill, introduced earlier this year by Congressmen Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) and Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) and cosponsored by more than 240 of their colleagues, would enable millions of permit holders to exercise their right to self-defense while traveling outside their home states.
Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) opened the hearing by saying the legislation is needed because state laws on right to carry reciprocity are "confusing, vary widely and can subject otherwise law-abiding citizens to frivolous prosecution." He also argued that permit holders' fundamental Second Amendment rights were at stake, noting that "this legislation recognizes that the right to bear arms does not stop at the state line."
Testifying in support of the bill were Prof. Joyce Lee Malcolm of the George Mason University School of Law and Prof. David Kopel of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.
Prof. Malcolm, an expert on the rise and fall of the right to keep and bear arms in Great Britain, noted that while America has seen crime fall as "shall issue" permit laws became the norm, Britain has systematically wiped out gun ownership for self-defense since 1920 -- culminating in the 1997 handgun ban -- with opposite results. As Prof. Malcolm noted in her written testimony, "English men and women have suffered from a doubling of gun crime in the last decade while in London alone gun crime doubled in 2010 over the previous year."
Prof. Malcolm responded strongly when challenged by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) about crime and gun ownership, testifying that "more firearms has not increased violent crime. We've had more firearms over the last few years, millions more, and crime, violent crime has been going down."
Prof. Kopel's testimony focused on the constitutional aspects of the bill. While many anti-gun lawmakers who've long pushed national gun bans, national bans on private gun sales, national waiting periods and other federal restrictions have suddenly become born-again advocates of "states' rights" to oppose this bill, Prof. Kopel pointed out that several provisions of the Constitution give Congress the authority to enact interstate carry.
First, Article IV protects the "Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States," which the Supreme Court has interpreted to include a right to travel freely throughout the country. As the court said in the 1989 case of Saenz v. Roe, that includes the "right to be treated as a welcome visitor rather than an unfriendly alien when temporarily present in the second State."
Next, section 5 of the 14th Amendment gives Congress the power to enforce the provisions of that amendment. Not only does the history of the amendment show that it was also intended to protect a right to travel, but the Supreme Court held last year in McDonald v. City of Chicago that the 14th Amendment also protects the right to keep and bear arms against state infringement. "Bear" clearly means "carry," though several courts are currently considering how far that right goes.
Finally, Congress has the power to regulate interstate commerce -- which includes the power to remove state barriers to free interstate travel. (This was the basis for the civil rights laws of the 1960s that ended racial discrimination by places of public accommodation such as motels.) H.R. 822 also applies only to guns that have been shipped or transported in interstate commerce, which has been the basis for most federal gun control laws since the 1960s; here, however, the power would be used to advance gun owners' rights rather than to restrict them.
Opposing the bill was Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, who previously was the police chief in Washington, D.C. While Ramsey admitted that permit holders aren't the problem, he also made clear that he strongly opposes the right to carry firearms, even for retired police officers.
Ramsey repeatedly claimed the bill didn't include enough restrictions on permit holders -- but when pressed, admitted that there was no level of regulation that would make the bill acceptable to him. "Personally, I don't like it . . ." was his response when asked if he supported right to carry laws.
Commissioner Ramsey's responses demonstrated that his opposition to the bill was based on a basic opposition to civilian firearms -- unsurprising for a man who spent the majority of his law enforcement career in Chicago and Washington D.C., where guns were banned. Ramsey repeated many of the exaggerated claims made by opponents of right to carry for the past quarter century, even as he admitted that permit holders are "not the problem." He made clear that he fundamentally doubts law-abiding Americans' ability to defend themselves in a legal and appropriate manner.
One congressional questioner seemed to have no understanding of the provisions of the bill, or the issues being discussed. To open his questioning, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) stated "this is the most insane bill" he had ever seen. But in a demonstration of his fundamental lack of understanding of the bill, Rep. Conyers asked the three witnesses "How many know that almost 300 African-American youth between the age of 15 and 24 are injured or killed by gunfire each week?"
When Prof. Malcolm attempted to explain that the statistic, regardless of its accuracy, had no bearing on the issue of right to carry reciprocity, Rep. Conyers cut her off, demanding a "yes" or "no." When allowed to continue, Prof. Malcolm explained that the majority of the people involved in violence have criminal records or are part of gangs, a fact Rep. Conyers similarly brushed aside.
Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) has long championed this important legislation and is joined by Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) as the primary sponsors of H.R. 822. This hearing was an important step forward for this legislation that now has more than enough support for passage. Please contact your member of Congress and urge him or her to support the earliest possible consideration of H.R. 822 this year.
H.R. 822: Responding to the Naysayers
Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, H.R. 822 is now being attacked by a few self-proclaimed "gun rights" supporters with no active lobbying presence in any legislature, whose real agendas have little to do with promoting the interests of gun owners. Here are the facts about a few of their claims:
Myth: H.R. 822 would involve the federal bureaucracy in setting standards for carry permits, resulting in "need" requirements, higher fees, waiting periods, national gun owner registration, or worse.
Fact: H.R. 822 doesn't require -- or even authorize -- any such action by any federal agency. In fact, since it would amend the Gun Control Act, it would fall under a limitation within that law that authorizes "only such rules and regulations as are necessary to carry out" the GCA's provisions. No federal rules or regulations would be needed to implement H.R. 822, which simply overrides certain state laws.
Myth: H.R. 822 would destroy permitless carry systems such as those in Arizona, Alaska, Vermont and Wyoming.
Fact: H.R. 822 would have absolutely no effect on how the permitless carry states' laws work within those states. For residents of Arizona, Alaska and Wyoming, where permits are not required but remain available under state law, H.R. 822 would make those permits valid in all states that issue permits to their own residents. Residents of Vermont, where no permits are issued or required, could obtain nonresident permits from other states to enjoy the benefits of H.R. 822.
Myth: If H.R. 822 moved through the legislative process, it would be subject to anti-gun amendments.
Truth: By this logic, neither the NRA nor any other pro-gun group should ever promote any pro-gun reform legislation. But inaction isn't an option for those of us who want to make positive changes for gun owners. Instead, we know that by careful vote counting and use of legislative procedure, anti-gun amendments can be avoided or defeated.