Congress to vote on Trump- and NRA-backed bill to remove local gun restrictions
Legislation would force all states to recognize gun-carrying permits from any other state and faces challenges in the Senate, but is expected to pass the House
On the day of an annual vigil in Washington DC that honors the victims of American gun violence, congressional Republicans are expected to vote on a Trump-endorsed bill that would eviscerate local gun restrictions, removing states’ power to control who is allowed to carry a concealed, loaded handguns in their streets.
Officials in New York and Los Angeles warn that the legislation would allow an unknown numbers of tourists – perhaps hundreds of thousands each year – to carry concealed handguns into America’s densest urban areas, including Times Square and the New York City subway. Big city police chiefs across the county have spoken out against the bill, calling it a law enforcement enforcement nightmare.
The bill, which is the National Rifle Association’s “number one legislative priority” has prompted a renewed battle over states’ rights, with Democrats for once arguing against the power of the federal government, and Republicans hoping to use that federal power to undermine local control.
The NRA-backed legislation would force all states to recognize gun-carrying permits from any other state, including the dozen states that generally do not require any training or permit to carry a gun, a policy called “constitutional carry”.
West Virginia’s choice to allow “constitutional carry” of concealed handguns “might be fine for West Virginia, but it’s not fine for New York City”, said Cy Vance, Manhattan’s district attorney. “I wouldn’t presume to tell West Virginia, as a New Yorker, what West Virginia’s laws should be with regard to gun possession. Can you imagine how mad they’d be?”
Donald Trump endorsed the legislation during his campaign last year.
The bill faces an uphill battle in the Senate, but it expected to pass the Republican-controlled House easily on Wednesday, the same day that gun violence survivors, including residents of Newtown, Connecticut, will be visiting congressional offices to ask politicians, once again, to take some action on gun control.
Nearly five years after the 2012 Newtown school shooting, which left 26 children and educators dead, Congress has yet to pass any gun control laws.
“We have nothing but heartache and compassion for the victims of Sandy Hook, but concealed carry reciprocity has nothing to do with this tragedy,” said Tatum Gibson, a spokesperson for Richard Hudson, the North Carolina Republican congressman who introduced the legislation, said in a statement when asked about the timing of the vote.
“I don’t know that putting the NRA’s agenda on the floor of the House is the right way to mark five years since Sandy Hook,” Connecticut senator Chris Murphy, one of the leading Democratic gun control advocates, told the Guardian. “It is heartbreaking to think as we come up to the fifth anniversary of Newtown, Republicans in the House are pushing through a bill to make our country less safe.”
Republicans’ attempt to tear down local restrictions on gun carrying comes just weeks after two of America’s deadliest mass shootings, at a country music concert in Las Vegas and a tiny church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The move highlights the stark divide in Americans’ opinions on guns, with some conservatives seeing increased civilian gun carrying as a way to prevent or lessen the toll of mass shootings, even as many other Americans are trying to fight against America’s gun-carrying culture and get guns off the street.
Under current law, states have dramatically different standards for who is allowed to carry a concealed, loaded weapon. A handful of more liberal states give law enforcement officials discretion when granting a carry permit and some require that applicants demonstrate a specific need for self-defense. But the majority of states make it easy for citizens to get a carry license. While some states require that permit holders demonstrate proficiency with a gun at a firing range, others only require some kind of gun safety course. In Virginia, applicants don’t even need to leave the house: it’s possible to get a concealed carry license after taking a gun safety course online.
Many states currently recognize each other’s carry permits, in the same way states recognize each other’s driver’s licenses, but some states pick and choose which licenses they will honor, and a few states, including New York, recognize no outside permits at all.
Gun rights advocates say the current patchwork of state laws governing gun carrying is confusing for law-abiding gun owners, and that American states and cities with the toughest gun control laws are violating Americans’ constitutional right to carry firearms for self defense.
Opponents of the legislation say the right way to fix the confusion over differing regulations is to create a uniform national standard for training and eligibility, not simply force the states with the toughest gun control regulations to allow the most untrained, unvetted gun carriers to walk their streets.
Adam Winkler, a gun law expert at the University of California Los Angeles, said the legislation the House is currently considering would also allow local residents in cites with tough restrictions to do an end run around local laws, and get their permit to carry a gun from another state with weaker laws. One of the proposed Democratic amendments to the bill would close that loophole.
An estimated three million Americans report carrying a loaded handgun on a daily basis, and an estimated nine million report doing so on a monthly basis, according to a recent study based on a survey conducted by Harvard and Northeastern researchers.
New York City has 46 million domestic visitors a year, said Vance, Manhattan’s district attorney. If the legislation passed and even a small percentage of those tourists brought their guns with them, “We’re talking about a likelihood of hundreds of thousands of guns coming into New York City each year from states with little or no requirements for gun ownership.”
If passed, the legislation “would escalate the danger for residents every day,” Los Angeles city attorney Mike Feuer said.
“The fact that the same people who promote states’ rights and local control would be trying to ramrod this bill through Congress – this bill that undermines states’ rights at every turn, that eviscerates common sense protections in states throughout the United States – it’s the height of hypocrisy.”