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Police chiefs implore Congress not to pass concealed-carry reciprocity gun law

Louis M. Dekmar, chief of the LaGrange, Ga., police and president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, is leading a call to Congress to reject nationwide concealed carry reciprocity. (IACP)

The nation’s police chiefs are rising up against another conservative crime-fighting initiative, sending a letter to leaders of Congress on Thursday opposing a bill that would allow gun owners with concealed-carry permits in one state to carry their concealed weapons in all 50 states.

The letter from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, representing 18,000 police departments across the United States and Boston Police Commissioner William Evans, targets the “Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act,” which passed the House in December and is now assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The letter is endorsed by 473 police officials from 39 states, from large departments such as Los Angeles and Atlanta to small departments such as Spanish Fork, Utah, and Falls Church, Va.

“This legislation,” the letter states, “is a dangerous encroachment on individual state efforts to protect public safety, and it would effectively nullify duly enacted state laws and hamper law enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence.”

The letter sets up a second conflict between American law enforcement on one hand and Republicans in Congress and the White House on the other. Last fall, a group of current and former big city chiefs of police and prosecutors urged the Trump administration not to return to the era of “lock ’em all up” policing by seeking maximum sentences and reducing oversight of police departments. The call came in response to initiatives announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The group Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration said that modern policing techniques had reduced crime significantly and did not need to be rolled back.

Nation’s top cops, prosecutors urge Trump not to roll back successful crime policies

On concealed weapons, states issue permits to individual gun owners to carry concealed weapons, and different states have different criteria for issuing the permits. Some states require training and proof of proficiency, while some states require no qualifications. Some states recognize the permits of certain other states, but many do not. And a dozen states now have “constitutional carry,” meaning weapons can be concealed without a permit.

The bill in Congress, described by the National Rifle Association as its “highest legislative priority,” would require all states simply to recognize the permits of all other states, regardless of the conditions imposed by individual states for obtaining the permits.

The bill also allows visitors to national parks and other federal lands to carry concealed weapons, and it would let certain permit holders — off-duty or retired law enforcement officers — to carry concealed weapons in school zones.

House passes bill to let gun owners carry concealed weapons across state lines

When the bill passed the House by 231 to 198 in December, NRA lobbyist Chris W. Cox called it “a watershed moment for Second Amendment rights” and the “culmination of a 30-year movement recognizing the right of all law-abiding Americans to defend themselves, and their loved ones, including when they cross state lines.” House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), the most seriously wounded victim of the Alexandria baseball field shooting last year, said that “concealed carry reciprocity will increase gun safety.”

Many police chiefs do not see it that way.

The main objection is that some states have devised strict requirements for concealed-carry permits and do not want to defer to states that do not have similar rules. “Texas is a state that takes gun ownership seriously,” said Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo. Texas requires an applicant to receive training and demonstrate proficiency with a weapon before receiving a permit. “Until we have that kind of standard nationwide,” Acevedo said, “we should not be forced to accept reciprocity with places where any buffoon who has a pulse gets to carry a gun. We want a national standard. … It should not be a one-size-fits-all.”

Acevedo noted that Texas recognizes concealed-carry permits from California, even though the two states may seem to have differing political outlooks, because each state’s criteria for issuing such permits satisfied the other.

Louis M. Dekmar, the chief of the LaGrange, Ga., police and president of the IACP, noted that police do not have access to the national instant background check system, used by gun dealers before selling guns, so they cannot verify permits brought from out of state. He also said the chances of counterfeiting state permits would be great, given that “with today’s technology you can create some very sophisticated-looking documents.”

“It’s clear,” Dekmar said, “that the policing community recognized this for the problems it would create.”

Missouri is one of the 12 states with “constitutional carry,” but it also has concealed-carry permits, for use in the roughly 36 other states with which Missouri has reciprocity, Springfield, Mo., Police Chief Paul Williams said. “Which one of those is going to be honored if this bill is going to pass?” Williams asked.

“There are 50 states, and everybody has their own take on this,” Williams said. “To try to take that patchwork of laws that are already in place and say we’re going to do a one-size-fits-all, I don’t know how you do it. I fear there will be misunderstandings and confrontations between the public and law enforcement officers tasked with upholding this law, and it’s just a terrible idea.”

In Massachusetts, simply owning a gun requires a permit approved by the local police chief. “That’s why Massachusetts has the lowest gun deaths of any state,” Boston Police Commissioner William Evans said. “Because we watch guns and who possesses them very closely. I think we have great gun laws, but it does us no good if we have reciprocity and everybody can come to the Boston Marathon carrying. I can’t believe with all the tragedies we have in this country, we want to open up the floodgates to more guns.”

The bill’s chief sponsor is Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), who said when the bill passed in December, “for the overwhelming majority of Americans who support concealed-carry reciprocity, Christmas came early.”

In response to the police chiefs’ letter, Hudson’s spokeswoman, Tatum Gibson, said: “With all due respect, they are failing to recognize that concealed-carry reciprocity is already a well-established concept between many of these states. A North Carolina [concealed carry] permit holder, for example, can legally carry a concealed weapon in 38 states, and the average state honors concealed carry permits from 32 other states.”

Gibson also noted that another group of law enforcement officers, the attorneys general of 24 states, also sent a letter to Congress supporting the bill. The signatories, all Republicans, noted that 10 states do not recognize any other states’ concealed-carry permits and that many more refuse to recognize them unless certain conditions are met.

“The exercise of Congress’s power is particularly warranted” for concealed-carry reciprocity, the Republican attorneys general wrote, “because the states that refuse to allow law-abiding, nonresident visitors to carry concealed weapons place their occupants in greater danger — not less — from gun violence. These states leave citizens without any real option for self-defense, and so it is not surprising that they have been unable to show that their regulations reduce crime.”

Here is the IACP’s letter: