A potential nightmare situation for victims of domestic violence is brewing in the U.S. House, which is expected to vote this week on a bill that would allow many domestic abusers banned from carrying firearms in their home states to obtain concealed carry permits elsewhere.
The bill, from Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), allows anyone with a permit from one state to carry hidden, loaded firearms into all other states. It would allow people with permits from states with weak permitting rules to carry into states with strict rules, like New York and California. And if a state will issue a concealed carry permit to a nonresident, an applicant could get one and carry the weapon into any other state.
Opponents of the legislation, known as the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, warn that it would allow the states with the loosest permitting standards to define the laws of the nation and would undermine states’ rights to protect their own residents.
The National Rifle Association has called this legislation, which is expected to pass in the House, its “highest legislative priority.” It is likely to be the first gun bill to receive a vote since the back-to-back mass shootings in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas.
Gun violence experts and victims’ advocates say the legislation is particularly alarming for domestic violence survivors, who are in more danger when their abusers are able to carry hidden firearms.
Under federal law, a person convicted of domestic violence or subject to certain protective orders is not allowed to own firearms. But the law is limited ― it only covers spouses, not dating partners or stalkers ― and dozens of states have passed their own laws that expand on federal legislation in the interest of keeping guns away from abusers.
Currently, each state sets its own rules about who is eligible to carry concealed weapons. In some states, law enforcement can prohibit a person from carrying a concealed gun at their discretion, such as if they believe the applicant lacks good character or doesn’t have a good reason to carry a loaded gun in public. In other states, officials are essentially required to issue a permit to anyone who meets basic requirements, such as passing a background check or completing safety training.
Some states offer significantly more protections to victims of domestic abuse, dating violence and stalking than others. In 28 states, for example, individuals convicted of stalking are not allowed to carry in public. But, as Everytown for Gun Safety counsel Courtney Zale explained to HuffPost, under concealed carry reciprocity, a stalker in one of those states could obtain a permit from Florida, which does not prohibit stalkers from concealed carry and issues permits to nonresidents through the mail. He could then use that permit to carry throughout the country.
In another example, an abuser who is convicted of sexually assaulting his girlfriend cannot currently legally carry a concealed firearm in Massachusetts. But under this bill, he could obtain a permit from nearby New Hampshire ― which issues permits to nonresidents and does not consider that offense prohibitory ― and carry his firearm back into his home state.
In 25 states and Washington, D.C., law enforcement can deny individuals a concealed carry permit if they have a history of red flags, such as repeated domestic disturbances. Under concealed carry reciprocity, a person could bypass state rules by applying for a permit from a state with less stringent standards.
Ruth Glenn, executive director for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said the House measure would effectively “zero out” countless state laws designed to protect victims of abuse. A person who is banned from carrying guns in his home state because of domestic violence could just apply for a permit from another state where he is still eligible because of more permissive laws, she said.
“The efforts that some states have made will be for naught,” Glenn said. “Domestic abusers are very crafty. If we think they don’t know about these laws and ways around them, we are sadly mistaken.”
If a woman in the U.S. is a victim of gun violence, it’s usually because of domestic abuse. More than half of women killed with guns in the U.S. between 2010 and 2014 were killed by intimate partners or family members. The research on this topic is unambiguous: Firearms make abusive relationships more dangerous. If abusers have access to guns, victims are five times more likely to be killed.
Even when they are not being used to kill and maim women, guns are often deployed as a tactic to control and terrorize victims. In addition, most mass shootings in the U.S. involve a male perpetrator targeting a family member or intimate partner.
Kim Gandy, president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, said that when survivors relocate to escape their abusers, they often take into consideration a state’s firearms protections.
“Imagine fleeing to another state where you believe your abuser won’t be able to carry a gun, and then finding out that Congress says that he can bring his gun with him ― and he can hide it,” she said.
Susan B. Sorenson, a gun violence researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, said the House bill could endanger lives. There’s some evidence to back that up: A recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that states with weaker concealed carry laws were associated with 10.6 percent higher handgun homicide rates.
“If this law gets passed, it will be the state with the easiest permit requirements that will define the permitting requirements for every state,” said Adam Winkler, a gun policy expert and law professor at UCLA. “A state that is willing to give permits to people with a history of domestic violence will undermine the laws of many other states that are trying to restrict abusers.”
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.