Tomorrow (or if you are reading this tomorrow 9/13/2011, today) at 10:00 am EDT, the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security will hold a hearing on: H.R. 822, the “National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011” (text linked here). Two law professors and the Philadelphia (Pa.) police commissioner are on the witness list.
I recommend that your read the bill for yourselves, but the general thrust is to require states that have a law whereby a person can obtain a license to carry a concealed handgun to permit residents of other states to carry concealed weapons while in the host state under the same conditions those states prescribe for their permit holders. Most states already have reciprocity, but there are a number of exceptions. One I am familiar with is that Ohio does not recognize Texas licenses – I have no idea why – although it has its own concealed carry licensing scheme. This bill is favored by all Second Amendment rights organizations and there has been a great deal of lobbying for it.
I have some concerns about this legislation. No one is a more staunch supporter of the right to keep and bear arms than I am. Of course, I am for restrictions on minors, persons adjudged mentally incompetent, drug addicts and other substance abusers, persons convicted of violent felonies, and those otherwise proven irresponsible citizens (Texas, for example, will not issue and will revoke concealed handgun licenses for those delinquent on child-support payments, student loan payments, and some other categories). However, I am very much a believer in federalism; that is, the right of the people of different states to use their own judgment as to what is the best way to safeguard and promote the health, safety, and good order of their citizens and guests. If New York wishes impose stricter conditions on those carrying arms than Texas, that should be up to the people there. Also, I believe the proposed legislation is more a feel-good measure than substantive. Persons can ascertain for themselves whether they can carry their arms in another state, and under what conditions, and choose to visit or not visit those places if it is that important to them. I also believe it is a bad precedent for Congress to add more and more words to the already voluminous federal statutes.
There is no question anymore that the right to keep and bear arms is a fundamental right specifically recognized by the Constitution, and cannot be infringed any more than freedom of speech, religion, or trial by jury for those accused of crime can be (District of Columbia v. Heller; McDonald v. City of Chicago). Requiring uniformity among the states with regard to reasonable regulation on the exercise of those rights by statutes, however, is not a good idea. Neither is running to Congress whenever we disagree about what some states are doing.
I personally believe that the Texas concealed carry law should be changed to permit more places where a licensee can carry weapons, but I do not want the Congress to make that decision. That is up to us.
To those who believe I am a “states rights” fanatic, I reject that notion. There is no such thing as states rights, federal rights, or group rights. Rights belong to individual persons – period. Governments at all level have powers, duties, responsibilities, but not rights. If states – or the federal government – infringe on fundamental rights, the Constitutional mechanisms should be invoked to preserve those rights. Otherwise, stay out of the way.