Lining up public officials in support of legislation is standard fare for interest groups advancing their agenda on Capitol Hill. But the letter signed by 23 state Attorneys General in support of the National Rifle Association's bill to nationalize concealed carry of handguns suggests that, for those public officials, pandering to the gun lobby is far more important than doing the job they were sworn to perform.
Call me naïve, but I had always thought that a State Attorney General had a solemn duty to enforce the laws of his/her state. Apparently some Attorneys General recognize a "gun law" exception to that obligation.
The legislation supported by the "Gang of 23," the so-called "National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act" (H.R. 822), would force states to recognize the concealed carry permits of visitors from other states, even if the permit holder could not have qualified for a permit from the state he/she is visiting. Under this bill, Congress would be barring states from enforcing their restrictions on concealed carry against out-of-state visitors. In other words, the considered judgment of a state legislature that certain restrictions on concealed carry are required for the protection of the public would be nullified by H.R. 822. I would have thought these Attorneys General, as the chief law enforcement officers in their states, would want the authority to enforce these laws.
To give an example, Montana law provides that persons are not eligible to carry concealed weapons if they have been convicted of certain violent misdemeanors, such as unlawful restraint or sexual assault. Under H.R. 822, Montana could not enforce this eligibility requirement against permit holders from other states who have been convicted of those crimes. One would think that Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock would be interested in preventing sexual predators from bringing their concealed weapons into his State, but his signature appears on the letter supporting H.R. 822, asking Congress to prevent him from enforcing his state's own laws.
It is true, as the "Gang of 23" letter points out, that many of the 23 states already have inter-state agreements recognizing the validity of certain out-of-state permits. But these are agreements the states themselves have chosen to enter into with other states. Under H.R. 822, Congress would force the states to honor the permits issued by every other state. "Reciprocity" would be a matter of federal mandate, not state choice. In effect, by supporting H.R. 822, these Attorneys General are telling the Congress: "Our elected officials cannot be trusted to make the right decisions about who should be allowed to carry concealed weapons in our state. Please make those decisions for us."
Who are some of the people allowed to legally carry concealed weapons under the permissive laws of various states? Florida gave a concealed carry permit to George Zimmerman, even though he had been subject to a restraining order and had been involved in an altercation with the police. Had Florida's concealed carry laws not been so weak, there is every reason to believe that Zimmerman would not have had a gun when he encountered Trayvon Martin that fateful February night and that the teenager would be alive today. A better name for H.R. 822 would be the "George Zimmerman Act," in recognition of the mayhem it will cause to allow people like George Zimmerman to carry their hidden guns across state lines.
Now we have disclosures from Florida law enforcement that violent drug gangs in Miami are making sure some of their members obtain concealed carry permits to allow them to be legally strapped in public. The Zimmerman Act will be a godsend to the Hell's Angels and other violent gangs with well-developed interstate operations.
The Zimmerman Act has passed the NRA-controlled House of Representatives. Similar bills, one sponsored by Senators Vitter (R-La.) and Thune (R-S.D.) and one sponsored by Sen. Begich (D-Alaska), are pending in the Senate. Nationalizing concealed carry remains the gun lobby's top legislative priority, though the Trayvon Martin shooting finds the NRA laying low for the time being. There is no better time than the present for the "Gang of 23" to rediscover their obligations as the law enforcement leaders of their states and put their duty to enforce their states' laws above their obeisance to the leaders of the NRA.
As for now, they should be ashamed of themselves.
For more information, see Dennis Henigan's Lethal Logic: Exploding the Myths that Paralyze American Gun Policy (Potomac Books 2009).