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House OKs state reciprocity on concealed-weapon permits

The bill is intended to allow gun owners to travel more easily from state to state without worrying about whether their permit is valid. Critics call it a federal infringement on states' rights.

November 16, 2011|By Kathleen Hennessey, Washington Bureau
  • Cary Scott, a maintenance worker at Wheaton Franciscan-All Saints Healthcare in Racine, Wis., posts a notice outside the hospital's emergency room informing people that weapons are not allowed on the property.
Cary Scott, a maintenance worker at Wheaton Franciscan-All Saints Healthcare… (Gregory Shaver, Journal…)

Reporting from Washington — The House gave gun rights advocates their first legislative win of the year in a move that some saw as a Republican back flip on protecting states' rights: Approval of a federal regulation that would require states that issue concealed-weapons permits to honor such permits from other states.

The GOP-led chamber approved the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011, intended to allow gun owners to travel more easily from state to state without worrying about whether their permit to carry a concealed weapon is valid.

The legislation had bipartisan support in the House, where it passed 272-154, with 229 Republicans and 43 Democrats voting yes. The legislation is not expected to be taken up by the Democratic-led Senate, where a similar measure failed in 2009.

Opponents saw a conflict with another GOP priority: states' rights. They argued that the proposed law would override state laws that determine who should be allowed to carry a concealed weapon.

The debate put the spotlight on the familiar tug of war between state and federal power, but it was somewhat unusual to see Republicans supporting the federal side. Proponents said the action was merely an attempt to bring clarity to a complicated system of permit reciprocity — a move similar to requiring that state driver's licenses be recognized in all states.

Forty states already allow some form of concealed-weapon-permit reciprocity, advocates said.

"The simple right to defend yourself and loved ones from criminals is fundamental, and it doesn't extinguish when you cross a state border," said Rep. Cliff Stearns, the Florida Republican who sponsored the bill.

Some Republicans broke from the party. Rep. Dan Lungren of California noted that he was a strong defender of the 2nd Amendment, but "at the same time, as a former attorney general, I continue to have a deep and abiding commitment to preserving states' rights."

Democrats and Republicans had largely tabled the debate this session, even after the point-blank shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) at a constituents event in Tucson in January. Wednesday's vote was a chance to win cheers from gun rights supporters, a key segment of the GOP base.

Similar base-pleasing measures have been making more frequent appearances on the House floor, as the year winds to a close and lawmakers turn to 2012 campaign mode.

The House recently voted to reaffirm the national motto "In God we trust," pleasing religious conservatives. Last month, the House passed legislation barring the federal government from subsidizing health insurance plans that cover abortion. Gun rights advocates had not yet gotten a turn on the floor.

The reciprocity in the bill would apply in the 49 states that issue concealed-weapon permits. Gun owners would not be able to carry in Illinois, the sole state that does not issue such a permit.

The qualifications and standards for obtaining the permits vary by state. Some states have set the bar higher than others, requiring firearm safety training and barring young people, alcoholics or felons.

Democratic opponents said the proposed law would undermine a state's ability to determine those qualifications.

"States are in the best position to determine which measures best protect their citizens, based on the circumstances and judgments peculiar to each state, and the 2nd Amendment does not confer a right to carry concealed firearms in violation of state law standards enacted to enhance public safety," wrote a group of 15 Democratic opponents on the committee.

kathleen.hennessey@latimes.com

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