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A Realistic Path to Concealed Carry Reciprocity

Concealed Carry Notice
A Realistic Path to Concealed Carry Reciprocity

The lack of reciprocity and varied gun laws across this nation leave law-abiding citizens open to prosecution just for crossing a border. That is unacceptable.

Every state and the District of Columbia now have licensing or other statutory provisions that grant US citizens not prohibited by law from possessing firearms, the right to carry a concealed handgun. About 36 states grant varying degrees of reciprocity to concealed carry holders from other states, usually by mutual agreements.  And a handful of states, Vermont being the first, allow people (sometimes state residents only) to carry a concealed pistol without the need for a permit, a practice known as “Constitutional Carry.”

Then there are states like New York, California and Maryland which refuse to recognize any permits other than the ones they issue. New York City will not even recognize New York gun permits issued outside of the city, for concealed carry purposes (with certain limited exceptions).  New Jersey, another state with no reciprocity, strangely makes it a felony to have hollow point bullets in or around a handgun outside the home, except for law enforcement officers carrying under the federal Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act (LEOSA), and while hunting.  Another restriction that varies from state to state is the capacity of handgun magazines, with many jurisdictions making it a crime to have one with a capacity greater than 10 rounds.  Even LEOSA does not create an exception for this prohibition.

These and other limitations create major problems for law abiding people who cross state lines with a legally possessed handgun on their person or within reach in their vehicles. This can turn a traveler into an “instant felon”, simply because they didn’t realize that reciprocity is neither uniform nor easy to understand.  For example, even though I am LEOSA qualified, when I travel from New York to New Jersey, even if just passing through, I have to remember not to bring my semi-automatic handgun which has a 14 round clip.  It’s legal for me in my home jurisdiction, but would be a felony in the Garden State.  So usually I just carry a revolver and some extra rounds in a speed loader.

Congress is now attempting to remedy this issue which too often entraps the innocent, by introduction of the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017. One version of the legislation was filed in the Senate by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX),  and a differently worded bill in the House, by Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC).  The outcry from legislators in states with highly restrictive gun laws, a fair number of police chiefs and the largest police association in the US, the Fraternal Order of Police, has been swift and vociferous.

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I don’t like either of these bills. In their current incarnation Hudson’s may not pass the House and Cornyn’s will almost certainly suffer death by filibuster in the Senate.  Both rely on the Commerce Clause of the Constitution (Article I, Section 8), as does LEOSA, which covers any handgun that has been transported at some point in interstate commerce.  Both bills permit people in states that have Constitutional Carry to also carry in states that require permits, but the Senate version does not address the ammunition nor magazine capacity restrictions of certain jurisdictions.  Other provisions of this proposed act would allow concealed weapons in school zones and on certain federal lands.  Hopefully these failings in the Senate bill will be addressed by the Conference Committee that reconciles House and Senate legislation.

More importantly, to help get a reciprocity bill through Congress and avert court challenges that might be brought by anti-gun groups and states, I believe it must also be based on the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution (Article IV, Section 1), which allows Congress to require every state to honor the laws of the others in such manner as it deems appropriate.  With both the Commerce and Full Faith provisions of the Constitution as the backbone of a concealed carry reciprocity statute, it would be virtually impossible for even the most liberal of federal courts, to void such a law.

But there is one more issue which both the House and Senate bills lack, and that is mandating training. We don’t allow people to drive cars, operate boats or fly aircraft without proper education, experience and licensing.  In what rational reality should we allow people with no training to carry firearms in public?  Hopefully not the one I live in.

I propose three areas that need to be addressed in any reciprocity legislation. First, firearms safety – there are far too many so called “accidental” discharges of guns in the most inappropriate of places.  Actually these should be christened “negligent” discharges, since a modern firearm only goes off when the trigger is pulled.  Every person who wants to be covered by an interstate reciprocity law should be required to undergo an NRA certified course in the safe handling of firearms.

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Second, is competence with firearms – if someone wants to carry a firearm in public under such a law, they should be required to attend a range and learn how and when to shoot, be qualified by an NRA certified instructor, and re-qualify yearly.  This is a requirement of LEOSA for both active and retired law enforcement officers, and there is no reason why it shouldn’t be part of a bill covering civilians.

My third proviso is that training be given in the law as it covers the use of deadly force. This one is tricky as some states like Florida have “Stand Your Ground” statutes, which basically allow the use of a gun against an unarmed person in circumstances that could lead to homicide charges in other jurisdictions.  But a general education in when a firearm may be used lawfully, should be a requirement for coverage under an interstate reciprocity bill.

While the Second Amendment has been interpreted by the Supreme Court to be an individual right, they have also ruled that “reasonable restrictions” may be placed upon it.  I think proper tripartite training as I delineated herein, is eminently reasonable and would silence some of the loudest critics of reciprocity.

Finally, the provisions allowing carriage of concealed handguns in school zones must be scrapped from this bill. It is a very contentious issue and best resolved at the state level.  Why put something toxic and peripheral into a concealed carry reciprocity bill, that otherwise would have a good chance of becoming law?  It took years for LEOSA to pass, and more years for it to be amended to cover all active and retired law enforcement personnel.  Make legislation giving concealed carry reciprocity to civilians streamlined, with certain rights reserved to the states per the Tenth Amendment, or it will never get by special interest opposition from within and out of Congress.  Follow the trail established by LEOSA and properly trained, law abiding citizens may at last get the right to carry their legal, concealed handguns across those daunting state lines.

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Martin Schwartz
About Martin Schwartz 13 Articles
Martin Schwartz was a N.Y. police officer, a U.S. Treasury Special Agent (criminal investigator) attached to the U.S. Customs Service, an assistant district attorney in NYC, a special assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York (Manhattan) and a special counsel to the U.S. Department of Justice. He is now a writer with prior published work in the N.Y. Times, U.S. News & World Report, U.S.A. Today and Newsday, and a consultant to law enforcement.
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