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Editorial

Guns and states' rights

Rep. Dan Lungren of California gets it — he voted against a bill that threatens state gun regulations.

November 18, 2011
  • 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…)

States' rights is one of those high principles that Republicans are willing to fight for — except when they aren't. So we have to give credit to Rep. Dan Lungren, California's former attorney general and now a congressman from Gold River, because he was the sole GOP member of the House Judiciary Committee to live up to his party's constitutional ideals by voting against a recent bill that steps on state gun regulations.

The bill, known as the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act, was approved in the House on Wednesday by a 272-154 vote, with 43 Democrats siding with 229 Republicans in the "yes" column. If it ever became law — which isn't likely because the Senate isn't expected to take it up — it would render moot California's efforts to protect citizens from those carrying concealed firearms. This state sets a high hurdle for people seeking permits to carry hidden guns in public, requiring them to show good cause for why they need a permit, undergo background checks and complete an intensive safety course. Yet under the House bill, those with permits from any state (including Utah, where anyone who passes a quick gun-familiarity course and a criminal check can get a permit and even out-of-state residents are eligible), can carry guns in any other state. The sole exception is Illinois, the only state that doesn't issue concealed-weapons permits and thus doesn't have to accept permits issued elsewhere.

The bill is largely a symbolic gesture aimed at shoring up support from the GOP base during an election campaign and ensuring that lawmakers have the blessing of the powerful National Rifle Assn., but it still took courage for Lungren, who generally supports gun rights, to take a stand against it. "As a former attorney general, I continue to have a deep and abiding commitment to preserving states' rights," he said. It's a principled stance, because unlike most other civil rights issues, there is a strong justification for letting different regions set their own gun-control policies.

It's no surprise that highly urban states susceptible to gang, drug and gun crimes tend to put more restrictions on firearms than more rural states. When the streets of cities such as Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland are flooded with guns and the blood of gun-violence victims, there is a strong public interest in regulating firearms, an interest that is far weaker in states such as Utah and Montana, where guns are used mainly for hunting and self-defense. That doesn't mean there should be no federal laws on guns, because minimal standards to maintain public safety are needed everywhere, but it does mean that Utah's gun rules shouldn't be imposed on California and vice versa. It's nice to see there's one Republican in Congress, at least, who gets that.

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