Editorial Board

Congress Moves Backward on Gun Safety

Concealed carry gun permits shouldn't be nationalized.


Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images

After failing to pass any gun safety legislation for a decade, and after witnessing two of the most deadly shootings in U.S. history in consecutive months, the House of Representatives has finally taken up the issue -- and made matters even worse.

The House on Wednesday passed a bill requiring states that permit individuals to carry concealed guns to allow out-of-state residents to do so as well, if they can legally carry in their home state. It's an idea long supported by the gun lobby, and it poses real dangers to the public.

The bill's proponents argue that just as state-issued drivers licenses are valid nationwide, so too should be concealed-carry permits. But standards for drivers' licenses are generally consistent across the nation: Applicants must pass a test, and often must take safety classes. Standards for concealed-carry permits diverge wildly -- and sometimes don't exist at all.

Some states issue concealed-carry permits only with qualifications, such as live-fire training or safety instruction. Many others do not. In a dozen states, no permit is required at all.

In states that do require permits, it is difficult if not impossible for authorities to turn down applicants, even if they have had runs-in with the law. For instance: Seven of these states grant permits to abusive partners. Twelve grant permits to convicted stalkers.

Half the states do give law enforcement the authority to deny permits to those who raise dangerous red flags, such as an arrest for assault. Under the House bill, authorities would effectively lose that power.

States have also adopted laws prohibiting the concealed carry of guns into places where they do not belong, such as bars and day-care centers. The House bill would override many of these restrictions. If Congress thinks this will make those places safer, why does it persist in banning guns from the U.S. Capitol?

Imagine walking through Times Square -- or Las Vegas -- and wondering if the stranger next to you, perhaps acting oddly, might be carrying a gun. There are reasons why New York, Nevada, and other states vet permit applicants and require them to meet certain standards.

States should not lose the right to set their own concealed-carry standards, nor should they gain the right to impose their standard on others. Many police chiefs and law enforcement leaders agree.

In a cynical move, the House attached the bill to one that would actually improve gun safety, by strengthening the background check system.  The slaughter of innocents at a Texas church last month exposed gaps in the reporting system that should be filled immediately. A bill to do that has garnered strong bipartisan support, led by senators from Texas and Connecticut.

That is the kind of interstate cooperation Congress should be encouraging, and it deserves its own up-or-down vote.

    --Editorial: Francis Barry, Michael Newman

    To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net .

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