National concealed carry reciprocity has been a historically divisive topic within the pro-gun community. Now, as a new reciprocity bill makes its way through the U.S. Congress, both sides have had the opportunity to voice their arguments for and against the legislation.
The national reciprocity bill currently under consideration would force state governments to acknowledge other states’ concealed carry requirements. Under this legislation, a person from Missouri, who does not have to obtain a license to carry a concealed handgun, could carry that handgun in California without fear of arrest or prosecution.
Proponents of the bill justify their stance on both constitutional and practical grounds. Constitutionally, they argue, the Second Amendment places firearm regulation within the purview of the federal government. The courts have interpreted the Commerce Clause, furthermore, to give Congress broad powers to regulate items sold or transported across state lines. Based on these two sections of the Constitution, the federal government has every right to regulate concealed carry laws, even if state governments disagree.
Practically speaking, proponents say, the current patchwork of concealed carry laws makes it nearly impossible for Americans to travel with firearms. Some law-abiding Americans have even faced fines and imprisonment for unintentionally or unwittingly breaking another state’s laws by transporting firearms across state lines. These Americans should not be punished for failing to grasp the complexities of another state’s firearm laws.
The anti-gun lobby despises the reciprocity bill, of course, but even some pro-gun individuals worry about the federal government overriding state laws. One recent example comes from the National Review, where Robert Verbruggen argues that while national reciprocity can be justified on constitutional grounds, states should ultimately be permitted to decide concealed carry laws for their own residents.
Rather than turning to the Second Amendment or the Commerce Clause, Verbruggen cites a little-known section of the Constitution known as the Full Faith and Credit Clause. Recent scholarship suggests that this clause gives the federal government the authority to decide the effects that one state’s actions will have elsewhere. If North Dakota passes a law, for example, Congress can determine how that law might affect the residents of South Dakota. The Full Faith and Credit Clause, Verbruggen argues, clearly gives Congress the ability to decide how a Texas CCL should be enforced in New Jersey.
But despite the constitutional validity of the national reciprocity bill, Verbruggen doesn’t think the legislation is a smart move for those who value states’ rights and a limited federal government. State legislators know the preferences and cultures of the people they represent, he argues, and, therefore, “it is the states rather than the federal government that should decide the question of reciprocity.”
“State legislators know the reasoning behind their own permitting regimes, and thus are well-equipped to decide which other states’ policies are similar enough to justify recognizing their permits,” he continues. “Legislators also know their constituents’ comfort levels with civilian-carried guns and their state economy’s dependence on interstate tourism.”
The debate will no doubt continue as long as a pro-gun president is in office and will likely sign such a bill. The House version of the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017 was assigned in January to the Judiciary Subcommittee Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations. The Senate version was assigned in February to the Judiciary Committee. Neither committee has considered the legislation since that time.