It was encouraging last week to see the U.S. House Judiciary Committee pass and send a gun reform bill to the full House for the first time in 23 years. That bill would require what 11 states and the District of Columbia already do: a federal background check on everyone who obtains a firearm from any source, whether it is purchased, gifted, or borrowed, with narrow exceptions. It will no doubt pass the House, since it has 231 co-sponsors, including five Republicans. But it has zero chance of clearing the Senate, given the Republican majority there.
On the discouraging side is the decade-long campaign pushing other states to pass a different kind of change in gun laws. Advocates of loosening gun restrictions call it “constitutional carry.” And while the particulars differ slightly from state to state in the 14 that have passed such laws, the essence everywhere is to allow anyone who can legally purchase a firearm to legally carry it, openly or concealed, virtually anywhere they wish. Some of these states already allow open carry without a permit.
South Dakota’s no-permit-needed law came into effect last month. And right now, legislatures in at least three more states—North Carolina, Oklahoma, Kentucky—are at various stages of seriously considering similar laws. Legislators in other states, including Alabama and Iowa, are also looking at possible moves in this direction, but their efforts are in the early stages, and past attempts there have failed.
The extremists pushing the change—led, of course, by the National Rifle Association—view the Second Amendment as absolute. In their view, there should be no restrictions on the carrying of firearms, except by felons and minors. This view goes farther than the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller that D.C. residents have the right to possess handguns at home for self-defense, and the 2010 extension of that decision to all the states and territories in McDonald v. City of Chicago. What the court did not rule on in those cases or since is whether states and localities can prohibit the carrying of concealed firearms in public spaces.
Starting in 1985, the NRA began a campaign to change state laws on the issuing of permits to carry concealed firearms. At the time, 16 states would not issue such permits at all, 25 could issue them but usually did so under very strict rules about who could obtain one (so-called “may issue” states), eight would issue them to nearly anyone who could legally own a firearm (“shall issue” states), and one, Vermont, required no permit at all and never had.
That map changed dramatically over the next quarter-century. By 2010, only two states still would not issue any concealed-carry permits. Nine were in the restrictive “may issue” category, 37 in the lax “shall issue” category, and two required no permits, Alaska having adopted the Vermont model. That same year, the NRA and its advocates cranked up the next phase of their campaign. Now the focus was on getting rid of permits altogether. If the three states now at various stages of considering this move wind up passing no-permit-needed laws, 17—a third of the states—will allow any citizen legally owning a handgun to carry it concealed without training or a permit.
Comments are closed on this story.