It's been nine months since the Tucson shooting, in which the U.S. Congress almost lost one of its own -- Rep. Gabrielle Giffords -- to gunfire. And how has the Congress responded to the shooting that so gravely wounded Rep. Giffords, while ending six innocent lives, including that of a nine-year-old girl, and injuring twelve others?
The House Judiciary Committee next week likely will report out a bill, H.R. 822, that will make it possible for dangerous people like the Tucson shooter to legally carry concealed weapons in virtually every state in the nation. The Senate may take up similar legislation any day now, in the form of an Appropriations Amendment.
Arizona's gun laws are so weak that Jared Loughner did not even have to get a permit to legally carry his hidden Glock, with its high-capacity assault clip, to the sidewalk in front of that Safeway. But he was certainly eligible for an Arizona concealed carry permit, and if he had obtained one, H.R. 822 would have enabled him to carry his Glock into Times Square.
This dreadful piece of legislation -- which should be known as the "Packing Heat on Your Street Act" -- would force states to recognize the concealed carry permits granted by other states, even if the gun carriers would be ineligible for a permit in the state where the carrying occurs. In fact, the version adopted by the House Judiciary majority last week would allow non-resident concealed carriers to pack heat in states where they were previously ineligible even to possess a gun. So much for states' rights. Under H.R. 822, the Congress would prevent states from enforcing the restrictions they have deemed necessary for public safety against out-of-state gun carriers.
In an ironic twist, during the same week the Judiciary Committee was considering this bill, Rep. Curry Todd, a Tennessee State legislator who championed a bill to allow concealed carry permit holders to take their guns into bars in his State, was arrested for possessing a handgun while intoxicated. (Perhaps we now know why he felt so strongly about the issue.) Apart from the irony, the legislator's arrest demonstrates the folly of making it easier for individuals to carry loaded and concealed weapons in public. It is simply too difficult to ensure that those who get these licenses are, in fact, responsible, law-abiding citizens.
A recent Brady Center report documents thirteen cases of murder by persons who were legal concealed carriers until they pulled the trigger, including Jared Loughner. The "Packing Heat on Your Street Act" only exacerbates the problem by allowing such persons to carry their guns into virtually any state. Under this legislation, if someone with a Virginia concealed carry permit were caught armed and intoxicated in Tennessee, the State would be powerless to arrest him for gun possession while under the influence, even though it could enforce the same law against Tennessee residents. Does this make any sense at all?
Even now, dangerous individuals are bypassing their own states' concealed weapon restrictions by obtaining permits from more lenient states. Take the case of Marqus Hill, who obtained a Florida permit after his Pennsylvania permit was revoked. At the permit revocation hearing, Hill had assaulted a police officer. With his Florida permit making him, once again, a legal concealed carrier in Pennsylvania, last year Hill shot 18-year-old Irving Santana 13 times and was charged with homicide.
Some states, like Utah, literally have gone into the business of issuing concealed carry licenses to non-residents. Last year, the State made $2.5 million from issuing the permits to individuals from all over the country. Dan Morain of the Sacramento Bee discovered that over 16,000 permits had been issued to Californians, even though California doesn't recognize Utah permits. Under the "Packing Heat" bill, everyone with a Utah permit will be able to carry virtually anywhere.
It's not too late to stop this insanity.
Think about the innocent victims of a legal concealed carrier in Tucson and call your U.S. Senator, and your Representative, now! Go to www.bradycampaign.org and we'll make it easy for you.
For more information, see Dennis Henigan's Lethal Logic: Exploding the Myths that Paralyze American Gun Policy (Potomac Books 2009)