As soon as Friday, the House of Representatives is expected to take up a spectacularly stupid and dangerous piece of legislation intended to undercut the right of states to determine what qualifications a person must meet before being allowed to carry a concealed firearm. That the measure has now been cynically wedded to a proposal to toughen up reporting of people ineligible to own firearms shouldn’t distract from the fundamental awfulness of the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017, which the NRA — no surprise — has made a legislative priority. This outrageous bill should never have made it out of committee, but now that it is moving to the floor, there will be only a few more opportunities to stop it.
While federal law establishes broad gun control policy, states set the rules under which people may carry concealed firearms. Some states, like California, set the bar high — sheriffs or police here may issue concealed carry permits only to legally eligible people who make a strong case for why they need to carry a firearm, such as those whose business involves carrying large amounts of cash. Neighboring Arizona, on the other hand, issues concealed-carry permits to anyone legally allowed to own a gun who has taken a gun-safety course.
Under the proposed reciprocity law, anyone with a valid permit from another state would be able to carry a concealed firearm in California, even if they do not meet California’s more stringent standards. This is a highly objectionable infringement on the responsibilities of state and local law enforcement to maintain public safety, and is clearly aimed at undermining gun control efforts nationally. What’s more, it will put guns into the hands of more people who shouldn’t have them.
While the measure has strong support among members of Congress happy to do the gun lobby’s bidding, those who back gun control rightly oppose it and, all things being equal, would stand a good chance of killing the bill.
So pro-gun members of the House decided to sweeten the pot by merging the reciprocity bill with the bipartisan Fix NICS Act which was introduced after last month’s Sutherland Springs, Texas, church shooting in which 26 people were killed. The gunman, a former Air Force service member, was able to buy firearms because the Air Force failed to report his court-martial on domestic violence charges — making him ineligible to own a gun — to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Fix NICS would reinforce existing reporting requirements and make grant money available to help agencies improve their reporting processes. It’s a small step forward, but not nearly enough to overcome the awfulness of the Reciprocity Act, which must be stopped. So as long as the bills are connected, this small step forward must die to avoid a major step backward.