The House Judiciary Committee yesterday passed a bill that allows active-duty and retired law-enforcement officers to carry concealed weapons anywhere in the country.
The Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act heads to the floor of the House for a final vote before going to the Senate, where a similar bill passed as an amendment in March by a 91-8 vote. The bill permits “qualified” law-enforcement officers — retired, off duty and outside their jurisdiction — to carry a concealed weapon in any state regardless of the state’s law. It passed on a 23-9 vote.
The provision drew the ire of Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and committee chairman.
“I believe it violates the principles of federalism and undermines the authorities of the states,” said Mr. Sensenbrenner, the only Republican who did not support the bill.
Mr. Sensenbrenner amended the legislation before voting no on the final bill. His amendment requires officers to have an official badge when carrying a concealed weapon, as well as a photographic identification and valid state certification.
Rep. Robert C. Scott, Virginia Democrat, also successfully attached an amendment that prohibits officers from being under the influence of alcohol or narcotics while carrying a gun.
Mr. Scott made several attempts to amend the bill before joining the majority of Democrats in opposing it.
Although 34 states have no restrictions on law-abiding citizens carrying concealed handguns, 16 states and the District do.
Democrat Reps. Melvin Watt of North Carolina and Bill Delahunt of Massachusetts argued that Congress was enacting tyranny against the states.
“I can’t believe we would consider a bill that starts out with ‘Notwithstanding any other provision of the law of any State.’ I mean, it is clear this violates our Constitution,” Mr. Watt said.
But Mr. Scott was more concerned about a jurisdiction’s legal liability if one of its residents is shot by an out-of-state officer. He said another problem is that the bill will undercut police chiefs’ authority over their officers’ weapons.
“This bill not only supersedes the police chiefs’ ability to determine what is coming into their jurisdiction, it overrides his authority over his own officers,” Mr. Scott said.
Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat, said the law requires much in the way of trust of the officers. She also hinted that the law could lead to more acts of police brutality by private citizens with badges.
“You’re setting up police officers to get into all sorts of trouble and jurisdictions to be subject to all forms of liability,” Mrs. Waters said.
Serious misconduct by concealed-weapon permit holders is rare, says the National Center for Policy Analysis, a public-policy research organization.
The center said in a 2001 study that, in most states, fewer than 1 percent of holders of concealed-and-carry licenses commit gun crimes.
Out of the 215,582 concealed licensees in Texas, 178 were stripped of their permits because of felony convictions since 1996, study figures show. Three have gone to jail for murder or attempted murder.
In Florida, where the state issued more than 72,000 licenses in 2000, it revoked 241; among Utah’s 40,000 licensees, five lost privileges because of a conviction for murder or attempted murder. Indiana canceled 921 licenses in 2000, out of 350,000 permits issued there.