By Chris W. Cox, NRA-ILA Executive Director
On Wednesday, Nov. 16, the ongoing effort to fully vindicate the fundamental, individual right to carry a concealed handgun for self-defense took a major step forward with passage in the U.S. House of H.R. 822, the “National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011.”
The bill, sponsored by Reps. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., and Heath Shuler, D-N.C., has 245 co-sponsors and was approved by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 272-154.
Several amendments were offered to undermine the bill’s protections. Every one of these amendments was soundly defeated, and included:
- Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee’s, D-Texas, amendment to establish a national database of permit holders (defeated 284-139);
- Rep. Jackson Lee’s amendment to require permit holders to notify law enforcement officials in other states of their intention to carry a firearm in those states (defeated 299-123);
- Rep. Steve Cohen’s, D-Tenn., amendment to exclude permit holders under 21 years of age (defeated 276-150);
- Rep. Alcee Hastings’, D-Fla., amendment, intended to exclude permit holders whose states do not require applications to be filed in person (defeated 277-148);
- Rep. Carolyn McCarthy’s, D-N.Y., amendment to apply the bill only to states in which state legislatures vote to accept it (defeated 274-147);
- Rep. Rob Woodall’s, R-Ga., amendment to allow states to create their own agreements which would exempt them from the bill (defeated 283-140);
- Rep. Hank Johnson’s, D-Ga., amendment to apply the bill only to permit holders who were required to participate in a live-fire exercise to be eligible for their permits (defeated 281-144); and
- Rep. David Cicilline’s, D-R.I., amendment to create a patchwork of recognition (and resistance) by applying the bill only between states where the attorneys general, state police chiefs, and secretaries of state have affirmed that their states’ carry laws are similar (defeated 277-146).
Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, who as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee provided crucial support to H.R. 822’s progress over the last several months, opened debate on the bill by describing in plain terms what it does. “This legislation requires states that currently allow people to carry concealed firearms to recognize other states’ valid concealed carry permits, much like states recognize driver’s licenses issued by other states,” Chairman Smith said.
Anticipating the claim that H.R. 822 would override state carry laws—a claim that would be made over and over by House members opposed to the bill—Smith added, “The bill recognizes the right of states to determine eligibility requirements for their own residents [and] laws and regulations regarding how, when, and where a concealed firearm can be carried that apply to a resident will apply equally to a nonresident.” Rep. Smith concluded his opening remarks by expressing the central motive behind the bill, saying that the “fundamental right to bear arms … should not be constrained by state boundary lines.”
As the author of the bill, Rep. Stearns expanded upon Chairman Smith’s arguments, saying “[I]t’s long overdue that we take action to enhance the fundamental right of self-defense for all law-abiding citizens of this country.” Rep. Stearns added, “The right—the simple right—to defend yourself and your loved ones from a criminal is fundamental. And it’s not extinguished when you simply cross a state border. … [U]nder this legislation, lawfully issued carry permits will be recognized in all states that also issue carry permits. There are now 49 states that issue these permits. Most of these states also recognize permits issued from at least some other states, while some states recognize all valid permits issued by any state. But herein, simply, lies the problem. The non-uniformity of the laws regarding reciprocity makes it difficult for law-abiding permit holders to know for sure if they are obeying the law as they travel from state to state. While preserving the power of the states to set the rules on where concealed firearms can be carried, this legislation … will simply make it easier for law-abiding permit holders to know that they are simply in compliance with the law when they carry a firearm as they travel this wonderful country of ours.”
Rep. Stearns, who has earned gun owners’ gratitude by championing this bill for more than 10 years, also put to rest several self-serving claims recently made by a small number of groups which claim to support the Second Amendment, but never seem to find a viable pro-Second Amendment bill they can support. These groups regularly oppose important pro-gun reform legislation, either complaining that it does not achieve all of gun owners’ goals in a single stroke, or expressing a paranoid fear that the legislation contains a hidden, insidious mechanism that will lead to the destruction of our Right to Keep and Bear Arms.
“This bill does not set up a federal carry permit system or establish any federal regulations of concealed-carry permits,” Rep. Stearns said. “That power remains with the states. Additionally, this legislation does not include any new federal gun laws, nor does it call for additional federal regulation of gun ownership. In fact, it does not allow for new federal regulation, for it amends the part of the Gun Control Act that allows only such regulation as is necessary, and in this case none [is necessary].”
Rep. Stearns’ comments on those points were echoed by other House members including Reps. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, John Kline, R-Minn., Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and Dennis Ross, R-Fla., each of whom reiterated that H.R. 822 does not establish a national licensing scheme or federal carry permit system, or any other federal regulation relating to carry permits or gun ownership.
Since the House debate, some of the same critics have focused their complaints on an amendment by Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., that would require a Government Accountability Office study of law enforcement officials’ ability to check the validity of out-of-state permits. The amendment was adopted by voice vote, but it is important to note that any member of Congress can request a GAO study of any issue at any time, with or without legislation. More importantly, this study—which would only take place after the bill actually took effect—would have no effect on the provisions of H.R. 822.
Also deserving gun owners’ special thanks is Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who rose time and again to defend H.R. 822 against anti-gun amendments. He rejected Rep. Jackson Lee’s call for a permit holder database, calling it “a version of the NCIC [the National Crime Information Center] for law-abiding citizens.” He dismissed Jackson Lee’s call for permit holders to notify law enforcement agencies in other states, calling it “Mind-boggling” and asking, “What is the designated law enforcement agency expected to do with this information—maintain a database of all entering nonresidents and track these persons’ movements inside the state?” He went on: “It would be nice, indeed, if we could get those who harbor criminal intentions to call ahead of time and inform local law enforcement of their plans. It would, in fact, be ideal if they would let us know which store they were going to rob, which home they were going to invade, which car they intended to steal.”
To Rep. Cohen’s proposal to exclude persons under age 21 from H.R. 822’s protections, Rep. Gowdy said that “adults who reach the age of 18 … are capable of being responsible just as 19-yeaR-olds and 20-yeaR-olds are. They can vote. More importantly, they can serve in the military where they are highly trained to handle firearms in very critical situations.” He added, “What is good enough to defend the foundations of this Republic and us, I hasten to add, should be sufficient to defend oneself.”
Special thanks go to Reps. Steve Austria, R-Ohio; Howard Coble, R-N.C.; Renee Ellmers, R-N.C.; Jason Altmire, D-Penn.; Dan Boren, D-Okla.; Mike Ross, D-Ark.; Trent Franks, R-Ariz.; Chris Gibson, R-N.Y.; Phil Gingrey, R-Ga.; Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.; Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill.; Candice Miller, R-Mich.; Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind.; and Don Young, R-Alaska, for speaking in support of H.R. 822 during the debate, and to Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Fla., for managing the rule which provided for consideration of the bill. And, of course, gun owners owe thanks to the House leadership, including Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., for making sure this issue came to the House floor.
The fight for the right to carry firearms nationally now moves to the Senate, where it will face determined opposition from longtime anti-gun activists like Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. Every NRA member and gun owner can support this fight by asking his or her senators to bring this legislation up for a vote at the earliest possible opportunity. As always, you can go to www.NRAila.org for the latest updates and to sign up for NRA e-mail alerts.