The US National Rifle Association’s (NRA) focus at this week’s annual meeting is less about enacting additional state protections than on making sure the permits already issued still apply when gun owners travel across the country where concealed weapons are now legal in all 50 states.
The largest gun rights group in the US, which officially opened its meeting of about 70,000 people yesterday in Indianapolis, wants the US Congress to require that concealed weapons permits issued in one state be recognized everywhere, even when the local requirements differ.
Advocates say the effort would eliminate a patchwork of state-specific regulations that lead to carriers unwittingly violating the law when traveling.
“Right now, it takes some legal research to find out where you are or are not legal, depending on where you are,” said Guy Relford, a lawyer who has sued communities for violating an Indiana law that bars local gun regulation. “I don’t think that’s right.”
Opponents fear the measure would allow more lenient gun regulations to trump stricter ones when permit holders travel across state lines.
“It’s a race to the bottom,” senior national policy director for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence Brian Malte said. “It’s taking the lowest standards.”
The push for reciprocity comes as the gun rights lobby is arguably stronger than ever before, with more than 5 million dues-paying members.
The NRA has successfully defeated numerous gun control efforts in recent years, even after the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
With midterm elections looming, the organization’s legislative wish list likely will be somewhat more modest than usual this year.
The reciprocity effort on state concealed-carry laws has strong support from US Senate Republicans, but narrowly missed being amended into last year’s proposed expansion of gun sale background checks.
Still, it faces long odds in Washington because Democrats control the Senate and White House.
Following a US federal judge’s ruling striking down Illinois’ ban on concealed weapons, the legislature in summer last year passed the nation’s final law to allow them.
Illinois is among at least 10 states that currently do not recognize permits issued elsewhere, according to the NRA’s Web site. Most others recognize permits from just a portion of the other states.
NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said that gun laws vary widely, with some states requiring strict background checks and a handful not even requiring a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
“It is vital because crime can and does happen anywhere,” Arulanandam said. “Just because an individual or a family crosses one state boundary to another doesn’t mean they are immune to crime.”
Much like drivers are required to follow the traffic laws of the states where they drive, Arulanandam says the legislation the NRA is seeking would ensure gun permit holders abide by the laws of states they visit.
However, Malte counters that reciprocity could ultimately leave states “powerless” to stop even violent individuals who cross the state line with weapons.
Led by US President Barack Obama, gun control advocates called for background checks for all gun buyers and a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines following the Sandy Hook shootings.