The Corner

A Little More on Senator Cornyn’s Concealed Carry Reciprocity Bill

Here are a few more details from Senator Cornyn’s concealed carry reciprocity bill, as provided by his office:

  • My legislation respects and obeys each individual state’s concealed carry laws.
  • The legislation provides that weapons conceal-carried by non-residents must be carried in the same manner as residents of that state.
  • This includes abiding by state laws as it regards to place of carry and type of firearm which may be carried.
  • My legislation does not allow concealed carry in those states that currently do not allow the practice for their own residents.

In practice, this means that if a state offers concealed carry to its residents it must accept concealed carry permits from other states; and if it does not, it does not have to.

Given that all 50 states now have concealed carry — and that D.C. has been forced to adopt some form of concealed carry by the courts — one might imagine that the lattermost point is somewhat moot. And yet it really does matter to the underlying federalism question. As I have learned each time I have discussed this with conservatives, it is important for sponsors to note that they are not using federal power to preempt reluctant states, but that they are instead using federal power to ensure that states offering concealed carry are prohibited from excluding licensed carriers from outside. For many on the right, the Full Faith and Credit Clause is an acceptable justification for this bill; the Commerce Clause, by contrast, is not.

Nevertheless, while this arrangement certainly appeals to me (ish, I’m never quite sure what I think), I don’t expect Cornyn’s assurances to placate the measure’s opponents much at all. Cornyn promises that his bill respects state sovereignty because it “does not establish national standards for concealed carry” and because it “does not provide for a national concealed carry permit.” That’s fine. But he should be aware that this arrangement is precisely what worries progressives in the first instance. In the eyes of the bill’s supporters, these rules are designed to protect the constitutional right to bear arms against those who would refuse to acknowledge it; to its opponents, by contrast, they are designed to ensure that the strict rules they have passed in their home states are nullified by the weaker rules in others.

In theory, the opponents have a point. Suppose, for example, that Connecticut requires all permit applicants to go through an NRA-approved shooting course, to take an eight-hour class, and to undergo significant background checks; but that, say, Montana does not. Evidently, Cornyn’s bill would allow those Montanans to carry firearms in Connecticut without going through the training that the state legislature considers necessary. Sure, they wouldn’t be able to bring guns in that were banned in Connecticut, and nor would they be able to carry their weapons in places that were prohibited within their host state. But they’d still be able to carry without having jumped through Connecticut’s hoops, and for many on the Left, this is a problem.

Similarly, the bill would limit the options of those states that have concealed carry regimes internally, but that do not accept any outside permits. Because there is a circuit split on the question of whether the right to carry a firearm is constitutionally protected, some states would be able to choose to shut down their concealed carry regimes entirely to avoid the change. Most, however, would not. California, for instance, has been told by the Ninth Circuit that it has to issue a carry permit to anybody who is legally able to own a firearm unless there is an extremely good reason not to. In consequence, this bill would force California to let in visitors from Western states that have more liberal rules than it does. If the Supreme Court eventually rules that all states must issue carry permits to all law abiding citizens, the remaining hold-out states would have to follow suit. Progressives, naturally, would hate that.

Personally, I consider these fears to be misplaced and overstated. For a start, most states have solid reciprocity rules already, and there do not seem to have been many problems with those. Second, there is a certain geographical logic at play here, in that the center of American gun control, New York State, is surrounded by similarly illiberal states that have similarly illiberal rules. Naturally, locked down Massachusetts would worry about live-free-or-die New Hampshire, and tightly regulated California would worry about freewheeling Nevada. But, outside of a few odd couples, it is not as if the map of the United States and the politics of the United States are entirely unrelated. In practice, then, these changes would primarily affect people like me, who live in Connecticut but work in New York City, and who are prohibited by strict residency rules from carrying my gun over the state border. Sure, the gun-control crowd will scream bloody murder about it. But the likelihood of Manhattan being inundated with gun-toting Utahns really is extraordinarily slim. The likelihood of Manhattan hosting carriers from New Jersey (such as they are)? Much, much greater. 

Finally, it is worth pointing out that there really is a problem that needs fixing here – even if we might disagree as to how we should do it. I have half-jokingly suggested that Republicans should name the proposal the “Shaneen Allen Concealed Carry Reciprocity Bill” for kicks. But I am really only doing that: half-joking. As more and more Americans buy firearms and apply for concealed carry permits, the number of people who are caught accidentally or ignorantly crossing a state line is only going to increase; and the number of stories featuring well-intentioned but harshly treated people is only going to follow suit. It takes a certain level of zealotry to believe that there is nothing wrong with innocent mistakes being punished with serious jail time, and an even more zealous heart to imagine that such problems are going to go away any time soon. As I write, the remarkable liberalization of America’s gun laws continues apace. It will continue to do so into the future. Before long, Cornyn is going to get his way. Question is: Will he do so with concessions to the Left (a minimum national standard, perhaps), or without?

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