Politics & Policy

The Corner

Charlie Sykes Is Wrong to Call ‘Constitutional Carry’ ‘Nuts’

In the New York Times, Charlie Sykes suggests that the National Rifle Association is irredeemably opposed to “rational gun regulation,” and tells a story to illustrate his claim:

I was a longtime supporter of Second Amendment rights and had backed state legislation that would allow law-abiding citizens who passed training courses and background checks to carry concealed weapons (as every state now allows in some form). More than 16 million Americans have the permits.

In 2011, concealed-carry legislation was poised to pass both houses of the Wisconsin Legislature until the N.R.A. decided that it did not go far enough. It insisted that the Second Amendment should preclude even minimal safety requirements for concealed carry. The N.R.A., claiming that it was supporting what it calls “constitutional carry,” demanded that anyone be allowed to carry a concealed handgun without training, background checks or permits of any kind.

I thought this was nuts and said so. The N.R.A. position made no sense from the standpoint of either public safety or politics. How would an unlimited right to carry weapons enhance public safety or confidence if you could walk into Milwaukee’s Miller Park with a handgun without any training or a permit? That would be a nightmare for law enforcement and frankly unsettling even for many ardent Second Amendment supporters.

But the national gun rights lobby pushed back hard, targeting me and a radio colleague who thought the idea defied common sense. The headline on one pro-gun website declared, “N.R.A. Calls Out Milwaukee Talk Show Hosts for Ignorant Stance on Right to Carry.”

Darren LaSorte, a former lobbyist for the N.R.A. Institute for Legislative Action, appeared on an internet broadcast, insisting that “it’s embarrassing to see them do that.” By suggesting that people learn to use a gun before carrying it out in public, he said, my colleague and I “probably did more harm to constitutional carry and the fight there than any other people out there, the anti-gunners or anyone else.”

Per Sykes’s account, his audience agreed with him. “My listeners,” he writes, “overwhelmingly supported gun rights but thought that requirements for background checks, safety training and permits just made sense.”

I don’t doubt that Sykes’s concern is sincere, nor that he is correct to recall that his listeners agreed with him six years ago. Indeed, if you asked people on the street at random what they think about this issue, I daresay that they’d side with Sykes. But that’s not actually a good argument against “constitutional carry,” and nor does it make any sort of case that the idea is ”nuts.” It’s not, whatever one might intuitively assume.

By the time that Wisconsin passed “shall-issue” concealed carry, almost every other state in America had similar laws on the books. Here, courtesy of Jeff Dege, is a chart showing the change:

In his piece, Sykes presents himself as a moderate for supporting Wisconsin’s addition to the list. And, by 2011, he undoubtedly was. And yet he was only able to do that because others before him had been called “nuts.” Thirty years ago, when Florida moved to a “shall-issue” system, the state was lambasted as an outlier. Florida, snarked the New York Times, would become the “gunshine state.” Worst still, we were told that we’d see shootouts in the street; usher in a return to the “wild west”; create a country in which the supermarket became the OK Corral. And what happened? Nothing. Crime dropped dramatically, as did gun crime. The naysayers slowly admitted they were wrong. And, as we have learned from the data provided by both Texas and Florida, concealed carriers proved themselves to be considerably more law-abiding than the police.

Nowadays, the position that provokes eye-rolls is that one held by the NRA: That, in Skyes’s words, “anyone be allowed to carry a concealed handgun without training, background checks or permits of any kind.” But should it? And does the NRA’s championing of it indicate a certain irresponsibility?


As Sykes concedes, it is already the case that “12 states allow concealed carry without a permit.” And what has been the result there? Well . . . again, nothing. Nothing at all. Vermont has had “constitutional carry” since 1777. Alaska has had it since 2003. Arizona has had it since 2010. Recently, they have been joined by nine others. And nothing has changed. As my colleague Robert VerBruggen put it in a recent review of the evidence, “a bunch of states started letting almost any random person walk around with a gun, and if anything good or bad resulted, it doesn’t reliably show up in the data. That’s something in itself.”

I’ll say. 


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