The “National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011,” known also as H.R.822 or “The Streets Aren’t Red Enough Act” by the Brady Campaign has been talked about a lot in the news, but not many news organizations have taken the time to actually read through the damned thing and parse it out for their readers (despite the fact that it’s currently only six pages long). Seeing as I’m a bit of a legislation nerd I figured I would give it a go and walk you guys through exactly what’s being proposed.
The preamble, which is the first actual line of the bill, is supposed to succinctly state what the rest of the text is going to do. In this case it does a pretty good job.
To amend title 18, United States Code, to provide a national standard in accordance with which nonresidents of a State may carry concealed firearms in the State.
The purpose of this bill, according to the preamble, is to change the penal code of the United States to outline some standards to enable interstate concealed carry.
Since the concept of universal concealed carry isn’t exactly res ipsa loquitur for everyone in congress the next important section outlines the reasons why this should be implemented. The very first statement more or less sets the mood for the rest of the bill:
The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States protects the fundamental right of an individual to keep and bear arms, including for purposes of individual self-defense.
The writer is enshrining the Supreme Court’s interperetation of the second amendment as an incorporated right applied to every citizen of the United States and not just on a federal level. This is backed up by the second statement, which refers to the Heller decision of the Supreme Court.
The fourth statement is probably the one that is going to rub opponents the wrong way the most:
The right to bear arms includes the right to carry arms for self-defense and the defense of others.
Boom. Right there. If this becomes law, the right to carry for self defense would be enshrined in law forever. Or until something else comes along to strike it down. And not only does it include personal safety in that clause as a valid reason for employing deadly force but also the safety of “others” as well.
There are a couple of statements thrown in here which argue that there is precedent for such a move. Statement #5, for example, is a reminder that Congress previously authorized off-duty officers to carry concealed weapons wherever they go without a permit. Statement #6 is a reminder that 48 states provide some mechanism for citizens to carry a concealed firearm. And statement #7 notes that the overwhelming majority of CCW holders don’t go around shooting up their states.
The real authority for this bill, however, doesn’t come from the previous statements but from statement #8, which states that a lack of reciprocity harms interstate commerce. The U.S. Constitution has what’s known as the “commerce clause” in the legislative powers section of the constitution. From the section enumerating Congress’ powers:
To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;
As any good High School student will tell you, any powers not enumerated specifically in the constitution are reserved to the states themselves. This is where the states get their authority to issue carry permits as they see fit. However, by not providing universal reciprocity the states have set up a condition where a citizen in one state may choose not to travel in interstate commerce due to that lack of reciprocity. Because of that effect on interstate commerce, Congress has the ability to act.
Yeah. I know. It kinda makes your brain hurt. But this is the same crutch Congress uses to pass a good chunk of their legislation that doesn’t seem to fit anywhere else in the outlined powers, so I guess what’s good for the goose and all.
Enough about the findings and the legal precedents, what does this bill actually DO? Here’s the main section:
(a) Notwithstanding any provision of the law of any State or political subdivision thereof, related to the carrying or transportation of firearms, a person who is not prohibited by Federal law from possessing, transporting, shipping, or receiving a firearm, and who is carrying a government-issued photographic identification document and a valid license or permit which is issued pursuant to the law of a State and which permits the person to carry a concealed firearm, may carry a concealed handgun (other than a machinegun or destructive device) that has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce, in any State, other than the State of residence of the person, that–
`(1) has a statute that allows residents of the State to obtain licenses or permits to carry concealed firearms; or
`(2) does not prohibit the carrying of concealed firearms by residents of the State for lawful purposes.
In English: As long as there are no local or state ordinances against carrying a concealed weapon, any U.S. Citizen who meets the following criteria can carry a concealed firearm (but not a machine gun or destructive device) in any state that allows concealed carry:
- Can legally own a firearm
- Carrying a government issued photo ID
- Carrying a concealed firearms permit issued by ANY state (not just the state of residence)
- Use a firearm that came from a different state or country
That last bit about the firearm coming from a different state might be another attempt to invoke the commerce clause, but it makes it a pain in the ass if you want to use a gun that was made in your state.
The big catch there is that the state you’re in has to have some sort of mechanism for allowing concealed carry. Illinois and the District of Columbia are the only two “states” that don’t allow concealed carry in some form or another.
Here’s another good question: What laws does the CCWer have to follow? If this new bill goes into effect, the laws of the state and locality where you’re carrying apply. So if you’re in a state that doesn’t allow carry in a restaurant you can’t walk into Applebee’s with your Glock under your shirt even if you have a permit from a state that says it’s OK. Rules about magazine size default to the current state you’re in as well.
On the other hand, if the local government issues their permits with restrictions (time, etc) on the licenses, this bill would allow out of state permit holders to operate as if they had “unrestricted” permits.
The rest of the bill clarifies some legal stuff to keep from pissing off the states too much, and allows the bill to be “severable.” That means that if one section is unconstitutional, only that section is struck down and the rest lives on.
That just about covers this bill as it stands right now. It’s still sitting in committee with 243 cosponsors, but hasn’t moved since it was introduced. Suffice it to say, should anything happen we will let you know.