Yesterday saw the first congressional hearing on H.R.822, a bill to make concealed carry reciprocity universal in the United States (click here for an overview of what H.R.822 proposes). In that hearing members of congress heard from Charles H. Ramsey, commissioner of police for the city of Philadelphia, PA. And he wasn’t too pleased with the idea.
It didn’t take long for Commissioner Ramsey to get to the point.
I am here today to urge Congress to oppose H.R.822, the “National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act.” This bill would eliminate the right that states now have to set their own public safety laws, in consultation with law enforcement professionals. This legislation is not aligned with our vision for the future of policing. It is counter to what the field of law enforcement needs to create safer neighborhoods, towns and cities.
The main point that Commissioner Ramsey makes in his testimony is that the law would remove the ability for each state to set their own rules about concealed carry. It’s a point that he articulates very well and, at least on the surface, makes a lot of sense.
Every state legislature has intensely debated what minimum standards should apply within their borders and has put those standards in place. For example, thirty-eight states will not grant permits to people convicted of certain violent misdemeanors, such as assault, stalking or sex offenses. Thirty-six states do not issue permits to people under the age of twenty-one. Twenty-nine states deny permits to alcohol abusers, including—in many states—people convicted of driving under the influence. And thirty-five states require some type of gun safety training or live-fire practice.
We have a uniquely diverse nation. What works where I currently serve as Commissioner in Philadelphia, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, does not work for our neighbor across the river in New Jersey. Our laws for obtaining a permit are vastly different, based on well-debated decisions made at the state level. This bill would allow people to carry concealed and loaded guns in every state, without consideration for the minimum standards created by their governments.
The idea of each state having the right to dictate the law of the land within their own borders is something that dates back even to the Articles of Confederation and is one of the fundamental beliefs of the United States. It’s a brilliant point (and one that I agree with), quickly followed up by another brilliant point.
Consider the following situation, which could happen if this bill were to become law. A police officer in Brookfield, Wisconsin has just pulled over a speeding driver who is a resident of Texas. Through conversation with the driver, the officer learns that he has a gun, and the driver presents a concealed carry permit from Utah, which grants non-resident permits.
How is the Brookfield officer supposed to verify that the Utah permit is real and up-to-date? And to what degree does the out-of-state and non-resident permit give the officer confidence that the individual is responsible, well-trained and thoroughly vetted?
This is all happening in the context of a traffic stop where tensions may already be running high. The officer is faced with an individual who has a loaded gun, and the officer is unable to verify whether the person is carrying that gun legally. With this law in effect, police would see an out-of-state permit, and simply be required to honor it. The consequences for our front-line police officers could be severe and dire.
As it stands right now, there is no centralized system to verify concealed firearms permits. Such a system exists with driver’s licenses, but the records for concealed carry permits are stored (or not) in individual counties across the United States. Implementing national reciprocity without fixing that issue may lead to counterfit permits and unfortunate outcomes.
Despite these excellent arguments, the Commissioner didn’t exactly seal the deal. He tried to present a case where someone was denied a concealed carry permit in their own state, got it somewhere else with reciprocity, and then committed a heinous murder.
In 2005, a man named Marqus Hill had his concealed carry permit revoked by Philadelphia Police after he had been charged with attempted murder. During the revocation hearing, he attacked an officer. But later, he got a new permit from Florida despite his record. Hill then used his Florida permit to carry a loaded gun in Philadelphia. He eventually shot a teenager thirteen times in the chest, killing him in the street.
Cases such as Marqus Hill, unfortunately, are becoming more ordinary, as more people whose desire is to cause harm, use the current system to circumvent Pennsylvania’s process.
What the Commissioner failed to mention was that the teenager he shot was attempting to steal Mr. Hill’s car. In the state of Pennsylvania, the use of deadly force is justified in the defense of one’s property (car, in this case) under state law 18 Pa.C.S. § 507. He has been charged with murder by the Philly D.A.’s office, but as far as I can tell has yet to be convicted.
The other interesting testimonial slight of hand comes from the statement that “[c]ases such as Marqus Hill, unfortunately, are becoming more ordinary.” If the only case you have available to cite comes from a single incident in 2005 and you’re not able to provide statistical evidence to back up your claim then it becomes a little fishy. If cases like these are becoming more ordinary, then why don’t you present some more cases to back that claim up?
Commissioner Ramsey’s case to congress brings up some good arguments, but failed to back them with anything beyond hypothetical situations and one cherry-picked case. He tried to tie it all together with his closing paragraph.
As we face the challenge of keeping our citizens and our officers safe, I ask Washington to partner with local law enforcement agencies, and develop reasonable approaches that protect citizens, protect our officers, and support states’ rights to provide public safety for their communities.
While I would love to carry in Times Square, this actually might be the best immediate outcome we could hope for. If the only thing this bill did was open the conversation on a national scale and start to get people working on solutions to these issues then I’d be happy. For now. The current bill’s chances in Congress are about as good as my chances of owning a full auto M240, but with the elections coming up things may start to look a little more rosy.