- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 5, 2017

House lawmakers are set to vote Wednesday on a bill that would force states to recognize concealed carry permits issued in other states, effectively undercutting restrictive local laws that require gun owners to prove a good reason in order to carry a firearm in public.

Supporters say the proposal would give law-abiding citizens the ability to protect themselves when they travel, but critics say it eviscerates states’ rights to require firearms training and safety standards for carriers because it would allow those permitted by states with no safety requirements to carry guns across state lines.

Complicating matters, Republican lawmakers merged the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act proposal with a piece of bipartisan-backed legislation that would close loopholes in the federal gun background check system.

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“I believe that both bills complement each other in keeping people safe,” Rep. Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, told the House Rules Committee on Tuesday.

Democrats who support efforts to strengthen the background check system were furious over the move, and tried unsuccessfully Tuesday to separate the bills during the rules committee hearing. An amendment that would have separated the proposals as standalone bills was defeated.

The background check bill merged with the reciprocity bill would punish agencies that fail to report their records on domestic violence to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which screens gun purchases from licensed firearms dealers. It also would push states to report more records.

Lawmakers raised concern over the background check system in the wake of last month’s shooting at a Texas church. The gunman had a series of run-ins with the law, including while he was in the Air Force and served time in the brig for a charge that lawmakers say would be called domestic violence in civilian courts. That should have gotten him flagged in the NICS, preventing him from buying a gun from a licensed dealer, but the Air Force didn’t report his conviction.

“It is shameful that we are considering a rule that combines the text of a partisan NRA-sponsored bill with a bipartisan bill to provide much-needed updates to the nation background check system,” said Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, ranking Democrat on the House Rules Committee. “The Fix NICS bill will help close loopholes that have led to countless deaths, and we should do everything we can to advance the bill, not sabotage it’s chance of becoming law.”

Rep. Pete Sessions, chairman of the Rules Committee, said the reciprocity bill would ensure “that law-abiding citizens’ Second Amendment rights do not end when they cross state lines.”

“Citizens who carry concealed handguns are not only better prepared to act in their own self-defense, but also in the defense of others,” the Texas Republican said.

With 213 co-sponsors, the reciprocity bill is expected to advance in the House. But it’s unclear if the bill has the support needed to pass the Senate.

Ahead of Wednesday’s vote, gun-rights and gun-control groups kicked their outreach efforts into high gear.

“Your fundamental right to keep and bear arms should not end at the state line,” read an action alert on the legislation that was issued Tuesday by the National Rifle Association. “This bill would ensure that law-abiding citizens do not lose the ability to protect themselves when they travel from state to state. And it would ensure that anti-gun jurisdictions do not harass travelers for exercising their constitutional rights.”

Gun safety proponents joined with law enforcement leaders this week to speak out against the reciprocity bill.

In Baltimore, where 323 homicides have been recorded this year, city police Commissioner Kevin Davis called the bill “a huge step in the wrong direction.”

“Overriding states’ concealed carry standards with the lowest common denominator means more uncertainly for cops on the street,” Commissioner Davis said.

Under Maryland law, State Police require individuals to meet a series of standards in order to receive a concealed carry permit. Gun owners must be found to have “good and substantial reason” to carry a handgun, have completed a firearms training course and cannot have exhibited a propensity for violence or instability that may reasonably render the person’s possession of a handgun a danger to the person or others.

Under the reciprocity bill, individuals who obtain carry permits from other states with no training or safety requirements or reside in states that do not require carry permits would be able to carry handguns in Maryland so long as they abide by other local laws.

As Baltimore police struggle to get a handle on the city’s gun violence, allowing more people to carry concealed handguns would complicate law enforcement’s efforts to get illegal guns off the streets, Commissioner Davis said.

Law enforcement groups including the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Major Cities Chiefs Association, and the Police Executive Research Forum have all also spoken out against the bill.

According to data compiled by Everytown for Gun Safety, 12 states do not require a person to obtain a permit in order to carry a concealed gun in public. But even among states that do require permits, the requirements to obtain concealed carry permits vary. Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia require gun safety training, 21 require live fire training, and 27 prohibit people convicted of misdemeanor crimes of violence from obtaining permits.

The last time similar reciprocity legislation came up in the Senate was in 2013, when it came within three votes of passage.

Robin Lloyd, director of Government Affairs at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said she is concerned this legislation could get the support needed to pass in the Senate.

“We are doing everything we can to raise the alarm on this bill,” Ms. Lloyd said.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is also set to hold a hearing Wednesday on firearm accessory regulation and the NICS background check system. Witnesses ranging from the acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, FBI officials, local law enforcement leaders, and a witness to the recent Las Vegas shooting massacre are all set to testify.

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