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Saturday, April 20, 2013
Both of Virginia’s senators last week voted in favor of federal legislation to expand background checks for gun purchasers. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine were rewarded Saturday with a small and hastily organized “thank you” rally by gun-control activists at the Mayor’s Monument in Elmwood Park.
The legislation failed even though a majority of senators — 54 — supported it. It needed 60 votes to break the Senate’s filibuster threshold.
Mostly lost in the shuffle of that news was another amendment senators voted on that in essence would have created a national right to concealed carry for the holder of any state-issued permit.
It garnered 57 votes — more than expanded background checks did. Though it failed, too, Warner voted in favor of it. And for that he should feel ashamed.
The language was proposed by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and it’s known as concealed-carry reciprocity. It would require every state that issues concealed carry permits to honor any other state’s permits. Only Illinois and Washington, D.C., do not issue them.
The gun lobby has long desired federally mandated reciprocity, and gun activists have voiced their frustrations loudly. Central to their argument is a confusing patchwork of state laws regarding eligibility for concealed carry.
Some states recognize only their own permits and make them difficult to get. Other states, such as Virginia, issue permits to just about anyone and honor permits issued in some other states, but not all of them.
“If I go on vacation to Maryland, why am I less trustworthy there?” said John Wilburn, a gun rights activist and handgun carry instructor from Christiansburg.
“They don’t do that with my Virginia driver’s license, and I have a perfectly valid Virginia concealed handgun permit. My concealed handgun permit should be valid in Maryland, too.”
Wilburn noted that Georgia doesn’t honor his Virginia permit either, but they accept his New Hampshire nonresident permit.
“It would be nice to fix this confusing system once and for all,” he said.
Kevin Hall, a spokesman for Warner, noted the senator had voted for a similar amendment that also failed in 2009.
“Senator Warner believes a Virginian with a legally issued conceal-carry permit should have it honored by other states, and his vote was consistent with a previous vote on reciprocity between states,” Hall told me.
“When this issue comes back before the Senate, he would prefer to see a proposal that sets some minimum standards for reciprocity across state lines.”
But Warner’s vote in essence would have granted a national right to concealed carry without any national standard as to who is eligible. The de facto standard would be set by states with the most lax permitting requirements.
By design, some states have made concealed carry permits difficult to obtain. For example, California, New Jersey, New York and Maryland issue permits at law enforcement authorities’ discretion. In general, applicants have to show why they need one. Relatively few are issued.
Other states, such as Utah, have decided to hand them out to just about any sane and law-abiding Tom, Dick and Harriet who applies, provided they get classroom handgun training. Some states, like Michigan, require experience on a firing range.
And then there are places like Virginia and Georgia, where concealed carry permit requirements are ridiculously lax. Virginia requires no gun-handling or classroom or firing-range experience, although applicants must demonstrate “gun competence.”
That’s a joke because of a 2009 law sponsored by then-Sen. Ken Cuccinelli. It allows concealed-carry applicants to demonstrate “competence” by watching a 60-minute online video gun course and correctly answering a handful of simple questions.
In 2009, I took the online course and got a Virginia concealed handgun permit, even though I’d never touched a handgun in my life. In Georgia, there’s no training requirement whatsoever for a concealed carry permit.
Though all states require that concealed carry applicants pass a criminal background check, those are hardly foolproof.
A 2007 investigation by the South Florida Sun Sentinel found more than 1,400 Florida carry permits issued to people who had pleaded guilty or no contest to felonies that included homicide, sex offenses and aggravated assaults. That was largely because of a loophole in Florida sentencing laws.
The Cornyn amendment would have allowed me to carry concealed in New Jersey, when most New Jerseyans couldn’t even get a permit from their own state. Should a permit-holder from Georgia who had never fired a gun be allowed to carry a concealed pistol in Michigan, when a Michigan resident who had never fired a handgun could not? Should New York be forced to accept a carry permit held by a killer from Florida?
Sen. Tim Kaine voted against the amendment because he understands that one state shouldn’t be forced to accept loopholes in another state’s laws or gun permitting processes. That would be a step backward rather than forward.
What a pity Mark Warner doesn’t comprehend that.
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