California has some of the nation's toughest gun-control laws, but proposed legislation in Congress would force the state to let people with concealed-weapon permits issued elsewhere carry their guns here. The Constitutional Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2015 would be bad law and bad policy, and if it passes — which it very well could — President Obama ought to add it to his growing list of bills to veto.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), one of the bill's main backers, compares a concealed-carry permit to a driver's license. “If you have a driver's license in Texas, you can drive in New York, in Utah and other places, subject to the laws of those states,” Cornyn said. Why, he asks, shouldn't the same be true for guns?
But that's an inapt comparison. Guns have a unique and troubling place in American society, and the rules that govern them differ significantly from state to state.
Variations of the reciprocity act have cropped up in previous legislative sessions as part of a push by the gun lobby and its supporters to loosen what few sensible restrictions exist in the country. This latest proposal would force states with higher hurdles for issuing concealed-carry permits to recognize permits issued by states with lower requirements, a move that critics argue is a “race to the bottom.” Apparently, states' rights is one of those principles that conservatives are all for — but only when it suits their purposes.
Federal gun-control laws are a good idea, in our view. But states, which have a responsibility to maintain public safety, also should be able to set their own, tougher standards without worrying that they'll be undermined by those of a more permissive neighbor. California, for instance, requires people to pass a gun safety course to qualify for a concealed-weapon permit; South Dakota does not.
Do we really want politicians in South Dakota, Texas or South Carolina determining the rules on who may carry a concealed weapon here? Clearly, what might be a sensible gun law in rural Nevada would not necessarily be sensible in California, with it's urbanized areas and its urban problems.
Previous incarnations of this bill easily cleared the House but stalled in the Democratic-controlled Senate. With Republicans now in control of both chambers, and with some rural-state Democratic senators backing the bill, it has a much better chance of reaching the president's desk. If Congress does the gun lobby's bidding and approves this, the president not only should veto it, but should help wrangle fellow Democrats in Congress to ensure the veto is not overridden.