GOP bill letting out-of-staters pack hidden guns in California clears hurdle
Updated 8:08 pm, Wednesday, November 29, 2017
WASHINGTON — The first congressional action on guns since a rash of recent mass shootings had a distinctly pro-firearms flavor Wednesday, as a House committee approved a bill to allow nearly anyone with a permit to carry concealed weapons across state lines — even into states such as California that tightly restrict them.
Passed by Republicans on a party-line vote, the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, HR38, would require every state to recognize concealed-carry permits from every other state. It would also allow people from more than a dozen states that require no permits at all to carry hidden weapons to bring them into California and other states with stringent restrictions.
Republicans billed the legislation as a response to gun mayhem, including the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history — the killings of 58 people at a country music concert in Las Vegas on Oct. 1 — and a church massacre in Sutherland Springs, Texas, three weeks ago that left 26 dead.
Republican lawmakers argued that law-abiding people carrying firearms could disable mass shooters before law enforcement arrives. They advanced the bill over the protests of law enforcement officials who called the logic misguided.
“We want good people carrying guns,” said Rep. John Rutherford, a Republican and former sheriff from Florida, where more than 1.7 million people are allowed to carry concealed weapons.
Using the 2012 massacre of 20 schoolchildren and six adults in Newtown, Conn., as an example, Rutherford said there is usually a lag time between when a shooter begins a massacre and police arrive. If a staffer at Sandy Hook Elementary School had had a gun, Rutherford said, lives could have been saved.
The National Rifle Association runs magazine stories “every single month of people with firearms saving lives,” Rutherford said. “I do not believe my right to protect myself should end at a state line.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called the legislation “incredibly dangerous.”
“Under this bill, someone with a concealed-carry permit from Nevada or Arizona would be able to carry a concealed weapon in California, no questions asked,” Feinstein said, citing two states with few or no restrictions on carrying weapons. “It’s particularly shocking that House Republicans decided to advance this bill in the wake of two of the deadliest shootings in U.S. history.”
Feinstein assembled more than two dozen local prosecutors and law enforcement officials who warned that the legislation would endanger the public and police.
“If you have 12 other states that in essence issue gun permits to anybody for no reason at all, they can come into California with that permit and usurp what we have in California,” said Eddie Rivero, assistant sheriff of Los Angeles County. “This would just multiply the folks that we encounter every day that are going to be armed.”
The law enforcement officials instead urged passage of Feinstein’s legislation to ban “bump stocks,” used by the Las Vegas gunman, that can turn a semiautomatic weapon into a machine gun. It stands no chance of passage in the GOP-controlled Congress.
All but one of California’s 14 Republicans have signed on to the concealed-carry bill as co-sponsors. The exception is Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, who as House majority leader does not customarily co-sponsor legislation. The bill by Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., has 213 co-sponsors, including four Democrats. None of the four is from California.
Rep. Mike Thompson, a St. Helena Democrat and gun owner who has led his party’s efforts to strengthen firearms laws, said the bill could pass the House as early as next week. Democrats could block the bill in the Senate through a filibuster, but Thompson said with several Democrats from conservative states facing re-election next year, the bill’s opponents may not be able to muster even the 41 senators needed to keep the measure from coming to a vote.
Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Dakota, West Virginia, Wyoming and Vermont are all “permitless states” that put almost no restrictions on gun ownership. Several other states such as Montana and New Mexico have only loose concealed-carry laws.
California issues concealed-carry permits, but only if approved by local police. Gun owners typically have to submit to background checks and other restrictions. Sheriff’s offices in rural areas generally grant licenses to those claiming a need to pack a gun for self-defense, but law enforcement officials in cities are far more restrictive. Most of those able to secure such permits in places like San Francisco and Oakland are police officers and security guards.
California’s law survived a legal challenge by gun groups, as the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take it up in June.
Calling the House legislation “crazy,” Thompson said some state gun laws are so permissive that under the legislation “you could find a gun on the street and carry it concealed” into California. “Some states have no age limits, so if you’re a 16-year-old you can come into California with a concealed weapon.”
Other states allow people convicted of violent misdemeanors to carry guns. “A domestic abuser in some state could come to every other state with a concealed gun,” Thompson said.
Law enforcement officers who testified before the Judiciary Committee argued in vain that the legislation violates the rights of local jurisdictions to determine their own gun laws.
Ben Tucker, deputy New York City police commissioner, said his city sees 60 million visitors each year. “It would be impossible to safely police the city under circumstances where people arrive with concealed weapons,” Tucker said. He called the legislation “just ludicrous. It makes police officers unsafe. It makes the public unsafe.”
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., the committee chairman, said states would still be able to enforce laws that ban felons from owning guns.
“The way to combat gun violence is not to infringe the rights of law-abiding citizens, but to enforce the laws against criminals,” Goodlatte said. “This bill is about the simple proposition that law-abiding Americans should be able to exercise their right to self-defense even when they cross out of their state’s borders.”