Gun Rights vs. States’ Rights

by Robert VerBruggen

Evidently, the House is likely to pass a bill that would require states to respect concealed-carry permits issued in other states — even if the traveler’s home state has very different criteria for awarding a permit.

Concealed carry is a good idea, and so is reciprocity when states enact it voluntarily — but this is a bad idea, as it goes beyond the proper functions of the federal government. The stated constitutional justifications for the law are to protect the Second Amendment (as applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment), to protect the right of interstate travel, and to protect interstate commerce, but none is even slightly convincing.

As the Supreme Court noted in its Heller decision, bans on concealed carry do not run afoul of the Second Amendment — they have a long history in the U.S., and courts have typically upheld them under the Second Amendment and state analogues. Thus, states have every right to decide the criteria by which they’ll grant permits (if they grant them at all), and to decide which other states’ permits they’ll respect. In fact, the exceptions written into the law itself — states that completely ban concealed carry don’t have to respect other states’ permits — show that no one takes this argument seriously; if carrying a gun in a state where you’re not licensed to carry is a Second Amendment right, why does it stop at the borders of the most anti-gun states?

While the Supreme Court has recognized a right of interstate travel, surely it doesn’t protect carrying items you’re not licensed to carry in the states you’re traveling to. And while Congress is notorious for abusing the Commerce Clause, I’m not seeing how concealed-carry permit holders’ not being able to carry while traveling “substantially affects” interstate commerce.

The only other justification for the law I can even think of is the “full faith and credit” clause, which requires states to respect each others’ “public acts, records, and judicial proceedings” — but this case would seem to fall under the “public-policy exception.”

And the Constitution aside, this is just bad policy from a conservative perspective, as it tramples on states’ rights. It’s almost an inverse of the Defense of Marriage Act — rather than allowing states to make their own laws and disregard licenses granted by states with different policies, it informs states that out-of-state travelers don’t have to play by their rules.

UPDATE: A commenter points me to Dave Kopel’s defense of the law. It doesn’t convince me the law is constitutional in the true sense, but it does convince me the law would likely hold up in court — apparently, once a gun moves in interstate commerce, the federal government can regulate it any way it pleases, under Supreme Court precedent.

UPDATE II: Other commenters make a good case for the “full faith and credit” clause. Its second sentence: “And Congress may by general Laws prescribe the manner in which such Acts, Records, and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.” So far as I can tell, not much has been written about the limits on this power of Congress’s. (Here, they have exercised considerable discretion in declaring that all concealed-carry licenses are valid in all states that respect such licenses, no matter how restrictive or liberal their criteria for granting them, and yet are not valid in states that don’t grant such licenses at all.) I’m surprised that the law’s drafters didn’t invoke this clause explicitly, though I still tend to think that states themselves should decide whether other states’ permits are granted according to acceptable criteria.

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