It's been months in the works, but this week, GOP Louisiana Sen. David Vitter and South Dakota Sen. John Thune introduced concealed carry reciprocity legislation in the U.S Senate. The bill would allow gun owners to carry their guns in states that permit concealed carry, regardless of whether those states require a permit or not, provided the gunholder honors the carry laws of the state he's traveling through. One of the main goals was to allow states to move forward in a direction that permitted concealed carry without permits, should the state so choose.
The bill, called Respecting States’ Rights and Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, is substantively identical to language the GOP produced in 2009 and which received 58 of the 60 votes needed for passage.
This time around, there are some additional factors that could help this bill make it out of the Senate. For one, the Republican caucus in the Senate simply has more members than it did in 2009. In fact, there are more senators signed on at the bill's introduction than last time--29 to 22, although by the time the language reached the floor as an amendment in 2009, it had 28 cosponsors. Plus, it's an election year, and concealed carry is typically a more bipartisan issue and one that constituents from certain states with Democratic senators would likely be in favor of.
There was also hope that the two parties could put forward a joint concealed carry bill. The Democrats, however, reportedly were interested in a national standard for concealed carry. The GOP, meanwhile, wanted to allow states interested in constitutional carry (concealed carry without issuing a permit) to be able to move in that direction. Eventually, the groups decided to go ahead with the language each one preferred, with Democrat Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia introducing the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2012 earlier this month.
Sorting through the language in this instance, however, is a bit more complicated; the Democrats' bill does call for the U.S. Code to be amended "to provide a national standard in accordance with which nonresidents of a State may carry concealed firearms in the State."
But an aide from Begich's office clarified that the Democrats' bill does not destroy permit-less carry in any state, nor creates a federal permitting system or a national standard. Under the bill, for example, Alaskans could still carry without permits in that state and every other permit-less carry state. They could also acquire a permit from the State of Alaska in order to carry in states that do require them.
It looks, in this case, to be a matter of emphasis and clarification, as there is signifcant crossover in the language of the two bills and the results look remarkably the same. The GOP looks like it specifically went out of its way to make sure that the states' laws were emphasized, including this language, "Nothing in this section shall be construed to preempt any provision of State law with respect to the issuance of licenses or permits to carry concealed firearms."
Will the two bills garner crossover votes? Two of the four Democrats who have signed on to that bill voted for the Thune-Vitter language in 2009 (the others weren't yet in the Senate), so there is a chance they would feel comfortable voting for the GOP bill this time around as opposed to GOP senators switching to the new language.
It's unclear which way the GOP's current language on concealed carry may eventually be voted on; for example, it could be attached as an amendment to another piece of legislation. If so, whatever bill the concealed carry language is attached to could help determine passage.
So far, there hasn't really been any communication with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office on the bill (though he voted for it in 2009), but several members of the GOP's Senate leadership are on board; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is a co-sponsor, as is Republican Policy Chairman Sen. John Barrasso. Thune is also a member of leadership through his role as conference chair.
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