Emily Miller is a journalist and the author of “Emily Gets Her Gun.” She was also the deputy press secretary at the State Department in the George W. Bush administration.
Donald Trump is the first president who has a concealed carry permit. Trump is one of more than 16 million Americans with a concealed carry permit legally exercising the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Now that Trump is president, gun owners are pushing for legislation to make it federal law that a permit to carry a gun be valid when crossing state lines, just like a driver’s license.
This week, the House is expected to again pass a bill that would allow a citizen who legally carries in his or her own state to legally carry a gun in other states. Similar bills have passed the lower chamber before, but now is the time to make it law.
The concept of reciprocity among states is popular with gun owners because the current patchwork of state laws is convoluted and disorganized. Take me, for example. I was the 15th person — and first woman — to get a conceal carry permit in Washington, D.C. I passed a federal background check and did extensive, mandatory training.
Now, let’s say I’m carrying my gun in the city and decide to go dinner in Arlington. In order to know Virginia law, I have to check the state police website, which says the state recognizes legal carry permits from any other state. So, I’m cool.
But say my dinner plans change to Bethesda. I check the Maryland State Police website. It takes a couple of clicks to see that the Free State does not recognize carry permits from any other state. I’m a law-abiding permit holder, but if I carry my gun to dinner in Maryland, I could be arrested.
Now let’s say I want to travel a little farther up Interstate 95 to Pennsylvania. The attorney general’s website lists six “categories” for reciprocity. After going through each category, I find that D.C. isn’t listed at all, so I better not take my handgun with me to dinner just north of the Mason-Dixon line.
It’s easy to see how a law-abiding person with a carry permit could easily make a mistake while trying to navigate all these different state laws. As this is a constitutional right, the onus should be on the government, not the citizen.
The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act allows a qualified individual to carry a concealed handgun in any other state. The bill says the person must be eligible to possess a gun under federal law, meaning that he or she is not a felon, dangerously mentally ill, a domestic abuser or any of the other disqualifying factors for having a gun.
The bill specifies that a person carrying a concealed gun must have valid photo identification on hand. Also, the person has to have either a valid concealed carry permit or be eligible to carry concealed in his or her state of residence if the state has “constitutional carry” (which means it doesn’t require permits for law-abiding citizens).
A key addition to this bill from previous versions is that if the gun carrier is arrested and charged for carrying in another state, but then found innocent because of this law, the state pays the defendant’s legal fees and the defendant has the right to bring a civil action for damages. This section is necessary because states like New Jersey and New York are notorious for arresting people who are lawfully transporting guns and pressing charges, which are later dropped based on federal transport laws, while the defendant is responsible for the legal fees, lost wages and expenses.
Of course it’s no surprise that anti-gun groups funded by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg oppose the legislation. One group, Moms Demand Action, calls the bill “dangerous” and declares that it will “make our communities less safe.”
That’s false, according to 24 Republican state attorneys general, who wrote a letter to congressional leaders in support of the bill. They said, “Authorizing permit holders to carry across state lines will not result in an increased risk of crime.” Research backs this up: The vast majority of peer-reviewed studies have found that concealed carry permits either reduce crime rates or do not affect them.
While the bill is expected to pass the House, its Senate prospects aren’t so clear. There are not 60 votes for the legislation as of now, according to those who are counting. However, a vote next year in the upper chamber will put many Democrats in rural and Western states up for reelection in 2018 in a tough spot between their constituents and party leaders.
We who have gun carry permits are law-abiding Americans, not criminals. Congress should pass -- and President Trump should sign into law — this common-sense legislation that supports a vital constitutional right.
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