Gun rights or states’ rights?

posted at 12:45 pm on November 16, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

Here’s a conundrum for limited-government conservatives.  Should the federal government dictate reciprocity on firearm carry permits to states as part of its authority under the Commerce Clause and the incorporation view of the Second Amendment?  Or should states have the sovereignty to decide on reciprocity for carry permits as a function of federalism and states’ rights?  A vote today in the House may test conservatives on this question:

If congressional gun-rights stalwarts get their way, a firearms owner with a concealed-weapons permit issued in Utah could be allowed to carry that gun in New York — regardless of the gun laws in the Empire State.

But as the House prepares to vote on a bill Wednesday that would allow that and please a core GOP constituency, critics are throwing another core Republican belief back at the party: states’ rights.

GOP backers of the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act — which would allow those with a concealed-weapons permit in one state to carry their firearms elsewhere as long as that state also allows concealed carrying — say they don’t see that as an issue.

“It’s kind of like having a driver’s license,” said Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), a vocal supporter of the bill who penned an op-ed in USA Today this week on the measure. “There are some states that have stricter driving laws than others.”

But their opponents — including one prominent Republican — are crying foul over the measure, arguing that the bill goes against the Republican Party’s core belief in states’ rights.

This isn’t an academic question for thousands of carry permit holders.  The rules on reciprocity are confusing, even with a great resource like USACarry and its interactive reciprocity map.  My resident permit in Minnesota allows me full reciprocity in about half of the nation, including the newly-arrived state of Wisconsin, but leaves out a number of other states — like my native California, for instance, Washington DC, or even gun-friendly states like Texas and Florida.  And what the heck is wrong with North Dakota, too?

carry, map, states, handgun, reciprocity

For permit holders like myself, the ability to travel with my pistol into other states without having to worry about reciprocity issues would be helpful indeed.  But that doesn’t address other fundamental issues involved, such as the ability of states to set their own rules for permit issuance and carrying.  Some states, like Minnesota, require a certain amount of training to get a permit, while others do not.  Should Minnesotans be forced by the federal government to have non-residents carrying in the state under less-restrictive conditions than their own citizens have to address?  For that matter, should Minnesotans have the right to carry in Illinois while the state forbids its own residents to do so, even apart from the question of whether Illinois’ policy is intelligent?  (Let’s just stipulate that it’s idiotic, but also that Illinois voters don’t seem to be in a rush to correct it, either.)

It’s a tough question.  The existing level of reciprocity indicates to me that the issue may not really need federal intervention in the first place, and that the proper limited-government perspective should be to keep the federal government out of it.  However, the “full faith and credit” clause gets used to validate  a number of permits and licenses across state lines, including for marriage and driving, so it’s not unprecedented, either — although conservatives used DOMA to block such forced recognition of same-sex marriages.  To some extent, it’s a moot point in this Congress as there is little chance of this bill succeeding in the Democrat-controlled Senate, and about zero chance of getting Barack Obama’s signature.  However, it will likely come up in the next Congress, when a more friendly Senate and White House may well impose full reciprocity on the states.

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