Packing Heat

Our View: Outrageous Amendment Would Lower Concealed-carry Permit Standards

July 22, 2009

If certain members of the U.S. Congress seriously believe that Americans should be able to carry a loaded gun anywhere they like, let them introduce such a bill and debate its merits. But instead, senators will today consider legislation that accomplishes much the same thing with a "lowest common denominator" approach to concealed-carry permits.

Under this backdoor gun-deregulation effort, grafted by South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune onto a wholly unrelated defense authorization bill, a concealed-weapon permit issued in a gun owner's home state would be good anywhere in the country. Permit-holding gun owners would essentially be immune from local restrictions such as those imposed by New York City or Maryland.

What a monumentally bad idea, the kind of violation of states' rights that Senate Republicans would normally find abhorrent - except, of course, when it gives them an irresistible opportunity to take aim and fire at right-of-center Democrats like Mark Udall of Colorado and Evan Bayh of Indiana.

It's politics at its most pernicious. According to one recent study by the Violence Policy Center (a nonprofit, anti-gun-violence education, research and advocacy group), handgun permit holders have killed at least seven police officers and 44 private citizens in 31 shooting incidents since May 2007. That's why many big-city mayors, including Baltimore's Sheila Dixon, have been leading the charge against the amendment.

That such a proposal has even a ghost of a chance of passage is testament to the influence of the National Rifle Association and its allies. The NRA's clout was much in evidence two months ago, when Congress amended a credit card reform bill allowing visitors to carry loaded weapons into national parks and wildlife refuges regardless of local laws.

Why should the most permissive gun laws prevail? Some states prohibit alcohol abusers from obtaining concealed-carry permits; others require the applicant to complete a gun safety program. (Maryland does both.) Should the Thune amendment be approved, those restrictions can be circumvented by simply obtaining one's permit from a state that is not so fussy about who gets to pack heat.

It's no secret that people living in some states, especially those with large rural populations, believe they are safer if more people are allowed to carry guns. But in other states, especially those with large cities, there are legitimate concerns that putting more guns on the streets will only lead to more shootings and deaths of police and innocent bystanders.

Letting a few states dictate policy to many would not be considered acceptable in other contexts. Should California dictate marijuana possession laws to Alabama? Shall the Massachusetts legislature set gay marriage standards for South Carolina?

Republicans probably don't have the 60 votes needed for the Thune amendment to pass, but if their true goal is to stir up trouble for Red State Democrats, they'll likely succeed. Such reckless partisanship might have been avoided if Majority Leader Harry M. Reid would stand up to the NRA crowd, but once again he has failed to do so.

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