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Advancing the Fundamental Right to Self-Defense from Coast to Coast

Monday, June 22, 2015

Advancing the Fundamental Right to Self-Defense from Coast to Coast

One of the greatest victories gun owners have won over the past quarter of a century has been the passage of “shall-issue” Right-to-Carry laws in dozens of states. After many hard battles in courts and legislatures, every state—and even Washington, D.C.—has some form of legal concealed carry. While eight states and the District still lack shall-issue laws, the movement to recognize the right to carry has been a juggernaut.

The next phase in this fight to expand our rights involves concealed-carry reciprocity. This effort started in the states. As shall-issue permit laws were enacted, NRA-ILA sought to ensure that states issuing permits of their own recognized permits from other states. 

Some states recognize all other valid state permits, which is a great solution. In other cases, the laws require agreements between the states or impose certain conditions on recognition. Where conditions are required, NRA-ILA has worked to ensure they are as minimal as possible.With recognition or reciprocity already the national norm, we are moving closer to the big majorities in Congress needed to enact a national reciprocity framework.

Currently, 18 states fully recognize out-of-state permits. Eight states have broad reciprocity, with no or very limited conditions on state-to-state agreements. Fourteen states have conditional reciprocity, where agreements can be implemented only if certain specific conditions are met. Finally, 10 states have no reciprocity. (For more information on the reciprocity laws in the various states, gohere.)

This patchwork of rules creates the necessity for national reciprocity legislation that ensures all permits are recognized in every state that requires and issues permits to its own residents. Without such a law, the means of effective self-defense will continue to be denied to millions of Americans who travel to states like California, Maryland, New Jersey and New York, which neither recognize non-resident permits, nor readily issue permits to residents. 

Passage of a national reciprocity law tops NRA-ILA’s priorities. We are working closely with our allies in Congress to find the best way to advance this important legislation. Meanwhile, we continue our work to broaden recognition and reciprocity at the state level. With recognition or reciprocity already the national norm, we are moving closer to the big majorities in Congress needed to enact a national reciprocity framework.

The right to self-defense does not end at the front doors of our homes. It does not end at the edge of our properties. It does not end at any city, county or state border. It is an inalienable right that each person possesses that is as important as any other human right. That is why laws that limit the ability of law-abiding people to carry firearms—by far the best tools to ensure our ability to defend ourselves—are wrong and must be changed.

As the reality of national reciprocity gains momentum, its opponents’ arguments become increasingly desperate. Just as they claimed Right-to-Carry laws would lead to gunfights in the streets, they make the same claims against reciprocity. But the facts are simple. The right to carry works. Even as dozens of states have passed Right-to-Carry laws, violent crime has dropped to historic lows. Permit holders themselves have proven to be more law-abiding than the general population. Those are the essential facts that the foes of national reciprocity hope to conceal with sensational claims and hypotheticals. 

The right to self-defense does not end at the front doors of our homes. It does not end at the edge of our properties. It does not end at any city, county or state border.

There are currently a number of bills that have been introduced to achieve national Right-to-Carry reciprocity. The NRA supports all legislative efforts that advance the right to carry. As this debate moves forward, it is important to understand what these proposals would and would not do.

First, the NRA opposes any legislation that would set up a national, federally administered carry permit system, or legislation that would create a national, federal minimum standard for carriage. No reciprocity bill introduced to date would violate our position. Carry permits would continue to be issued at the state and local levels. This recognizes the traditional role of the states. It also acts as a safeguard against a national registry of gun owners or an overreaching federal executive branch.

Next, these proposals would not displace state carry laws. Permits issued by other states would be given full faith and credit in a given state, but the carrier would still have to follow the laws that govern the behavior of concealed carriers in the state. For instance, if a state bars firearms from certain places, such as courthouses, those laws would have to be followed. Additionally, none of these bills would change the permit requirements established by the various states. Bottom line, the primary effect of the bills is to require the states to recognize legally obtained carry permits, regardless of where they are obtained, as long as local laws governing behavior are respected.

Some opponents of national reciprocity argue that the concept effectively makes the most liberal state permitting regime the de facto national standard. This argument, however, is a red herring. 

First, to benefit from national reciprocity, a person cannot be federally prohibited from possessing or receiving a firearm. Thus, it excludes felons, those who have been committed to a mental institution, those who have been subject to mental health adjudications, and fugitives, among others. Simply put, carrying by such people would remain illegal under the federal legislation.

Second, states also have differential standards for issuance of driver’s licenses, vehicle insurance, and vehicle registration, and while all those matters affect the safety of public roads, all states recognize the validity of these things from other states. Absolute uniformity is not, and never has been, necessary for a workable system of interstate travel based on procedures administered separately by the states. The same is true of persons traveling with firearms they can lawfully possess and carry concealed in their home states. No state has an interest in a haphazard concealed-carry permitting regime.That’s why federal reforms are necessary, so no American is left behind when it comes to the Second Amendment nor denied the right to protect self or loved ones as he or she moves around our great nation.

Finally, the violent criminals whose illegal carrying of firearms across state lines poses a true public safety threat have always been willing to disregard whatever laws are on the books. Since the first law was passed restricting the carrying of firearms, criminals have carried firearms illegally. The purpose of national Right-to-Carry legislation is to benefit the law-abiding and put them on equal footing with those who would unlawfully prey upon them. Contrary to the claims of our opponents, law-abiding permit holders do not suddenly become dangerous criminals when they cross a state border. Safe and responsible gun owners are just that, regardless of what state they happen to visit. Conversely, criminals are not waiting for Congress to act before they start carrying guns.

This reform recognizes and facilitates exercise of the fundamental freedoms of law-abiding Americans. Just as importantly, it demonstrates a fundamental trust in the good and honest people of the United States to exercise those freedoms responsibly. And the people deserve that respect. We have earned it and have proven time and again that good character is not created or maintained by laws restricting freedom.

Despite our remarkable success in advancing the right to bear arms over the past four decades, this right is still effectively denied in a number of state and local jurisdictions. A state or local abridgement of an inalienable right is never acceptable under any circumstance. That’s why federal reforms are necessary, so no American is left behind when it comes to the Second Amendment nor denied the right to protect self or loved ones as he or she moves around our great nation.

That is our goal. We are working every day to gather the votes we need to win passage of national reciprocity legislation. But your senators and representatives need to hear that you will hold them accountable for their vote on this reform, whether as part of a broader piece of legislation or as a stand-alone bill. Working together, we can make this happen.

Chris W. Cox

BY Chris W. Cox

NRA-ILA Executive Director

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Chris W. Cox has served as the executive director of the Institute for Legislative Action, the political and lobbying arm of NRA, since 2002. As NRA’s principal political strategist, Cox oversees eight NRA-ILA divisions: Federal Affairs; State & Local Affairs; Public Affairs; Grassroots; Finance; Research & Information; Conservation, Wildlife & Natural Resources; and Office of Legislative Counsel. Cox also serves as chairman of NRA’s Political Victory Fund (NRA-PVF), the Association’s political action committee; president of the NRA Freedom Action Foundation (NRA-FAF), which focuses on non-partisan voter registration and citizen education; and chairman of NRA Country, an effort to bring country music artists together with NRA members in support of our Second Amendment freedoms and hunting heritage.

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NRA ILA

Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.