Have gun will travel: Congress targets interstate concealed-carry restrictions

Capitol Hill lawmakers are moving to pass legislation that would effectively lift restrictions on traveling state to state with concealed weapons. The proposed laws would not only clear the path for gun owners with state-based concealed-carry permits but also for gun owners who live in states that require no permits to carry guns. The prospect has energized gun-rights activists and alarmed state and local officials, who say the legislation would blast holes in the long-established boundaries separating federal and local authority in regard to guns and safety and would present a grave threat to citizens and to law enforcement officials.

One such bill has already passed in the House and two similar bills are currently competing for support in the Senate.

The Respecting States’ Rights and Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act (S 2213), sponsored by Sen. John Thune (R-SD), and the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act (S 2188), sponsored by Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) are mostly similar except that Thune’s bill matches the one already passed in the House and would allow people who live in states that require no permits to carry their guns in states across the country. Support is shifting behind Thune’s bill.

The Begich/Manchin bill is the companion to the House bill that passed and is also the preferred bill of the National Rifle Association.

Colorado Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet voted in favor of a 2009 version. That year’s bill fell only two votes short of the 60 required to pass. The Senators didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on the coming vote.

Colorado representatives split along party lines on the House version of the bill, with Republicans voting in favor and Democrats against. Republican Rep. Cory Gardner did not vote.

Among states that require no permits for concealed weapons are Arizona, Wyoming and Montana.

The NRA and other gun-rights groups make up the main organizations supporting the bill.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock has come out against the bills, as have the mayors of Colorado cities such as Boulder, Golden, Manitou Springs and Salida.

“The mayor believes that our government must to do more to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. When public safety is at stake, he will not support any legislation that weakens state and local authority to regulate concealed weapons” said Hancock’s spokeswoman Amber Miller by email.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office chose not to comment.

A long list of local police organizations and personnel oppose the bill, including the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, Bellingham Police Chief Todd Ramsay, Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle, Broomfield Police Chief Thomas Deland, Retired Colorado Springs Police Chief Richard Myers, Denver Police Chief Robert White, Pueblo Police Chief Luis Velez, and Wheat Ridge Police Chief Dan Brennan.

The Colorado opponents are joined by a loose coalition of urban mayors, police organizations and gun control advocates, led by Our Lives, Our Laws, which is a project of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

“States and cities across the country have always had the authority to decide whether some people are just too dangerous to carry a loaded, hidden gun in public,” said coalition co-chair New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. “This bill would take away that authority and force states to allow out-of-state permit holders who have records of domestic violence, have certain misdemeanor convictions, or haven’t completed basic gun safety training to carry loaded guns in public. When it comes to public safety, Congress has no business telling states, cities and police how to do their jobs,” Bloomberg said in a press release.

“Police put their lives on the line to protect us every day,” said coalition co-chair Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino. “And when they encounter someone with a gun, they need certainty about the legality of that gun and whether the carrier is a danger to the public. This legislation would remove that certainty and replace it with chaos and confusion, because officers would have no way to verify that a permit is real. It undermines local laws, it undermines police and it undermines public safety.”

Newark Mayor Cory Booker voiced strong opposition to the legislation.

A moderately liberal lawmaker and a westerner at heart, Udall’s gun-rights position can be hard to pin down. His website give a general overview:

Responsible gun-ownership is also an integral part of our Western heritage. The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is an individual right, and I’m committed to protecting the rights of citizens to own firearms for personal protection, hunting, collecting or for other legal purposes. When it comes to stricter gun control legislation, the burden of proof should be on those seeking to change existing laws. My priority is on ensuring we do a better job of enforcing the laws already on the books before embarking on new restrictions or regulations.

However, I’m reminded of the tragedies at Columbine High School, Virginia Tech, in Tucson, Arizona, and other instances in which terrible crimes have been committed with guns. These horrific events are national tragedies that should concern us all. We should all be able to agree to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. There is much we can do with existing laws and regulations to prevent gun crime, and that’s where our emphasis should be placed…

I generally support the self-rule of residents and their local governments because they, like the residents of Colorado, should largely be free to set their own policies.

Bennet’s website contains no information on gun rights.

The NRA awarded Bennet a C+ on gun rights and Udall an F, but Udall’s grade is from 2003 and Bennet’s is from 2010.

[ Images of Udall and Bennet are from their websites. ]

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.