A few years ago, Illinois lost a notable — some would say notorious — attribute. It was the last state that banned any carrying of concealed firearms in public. In 2012, a federal appeals court struck down the ban, forcing the state Legislature to pass a measure allowing citizens to obtain concealed carry permits.
The new permit system includes a number of common-sense provisions. It disqualifies felons and those guilty of misdemeanors involving the use or threat of violence. Repeat DUI offenders are ineligible, as is anyone who has undergone residential or court-ordered drug or alcohol rehab in the past five years. It requires 16 hours of firearms training to ensure competence. The minimum age is 21.
But if the National Rifle Association and its allies in Congress have their way, those rules won’t mean much.
The legislation they propose would force every state to honor concealed carry permits from other states. In practice, this would mean the laws of states with loose standards would apply to those beyond their borders. Indiana, for example, has no proficiency requirement and grants permits to 18-year-olds. There are 800,000 permit holders in Indiana, and they would all be entitled to pack wherever they want, regardless of what people in other states think.
Supporters say that just as a driver’s license issued in one state is valid everywhere, a weapons permit should be. But states honor driver’s licenses voluntarily, not by federal mandate, a custom that makes sense because the requirements to get one don’t differ much from one place to another. Concealed carry permit standards vary greatly. Lax rules create a danger to public safety by allowing people without basic skills to carry guns.
This legislation would trample on the principle of federalism by denying states the right to decide for themselves what to require of those who want to carry loaded guns in public. If states want to honor permits from other states, they’re free to do so, and some do. If they don’t, they shouldn’t have to.
This logic is even more compelling at a time when the NRA is pushing states to allow concealed carry without a permit. Missouri recently decided to let anyone who lawfully owns a gun to carry it in public — over the objections of the Fraternal Order of Police. Eleven other states have similar laws. Under the proposed federal measure, someone from a state that doesn’t require a permit would have the right to carry in a state that does.
The whole idea of allowing concealed carry without a permit is a mistake. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock recently vetoed a bill to that effect, arguing that it would make just as much sense to let people drive a car or pilot a plane without a license.
Requiring a permit of those who want to carry loaded guns in public is hardly unreasonable. All 50 states require hunters to get licenses — and 49 have hunter education requirements. If that’s a reasonable approach for someone who wants to use a gun to shoot ducks or deer, it’s a reasonable approach for someone who wants to carry a gun for self-defense.
Some gun-rights zealots think the Second Amendment bars even minimal government regulation of firearms ownership. But the Supreme Court has never taken that view, and other constitutional rights are not unlimited. Even Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the landmark 2008 decision striking down a Washington, D.C., gun ordinance, noted that 19th-century courts generally “held that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment.”
The entire debate is a reminder of the value of federalism in a large and diverse country. When it comes to concealed carry laws, the best option is to let each state decide for itself what rules to impose within its boundaries — and let every other state do the same.