With the horror of the mass shootings at a Las Vegas country music concert and a small Texas church still fresh, the U.S. House finally has taken action on guns. But the bill it passed last week won’t make Americans safer from gun violence. It is an early Christmas present to the National Rifle Association, and now the Senate should play Scrooge and stop this bad legislation in its tracks.
The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017 expands the right to carry a concealed firearm, letting individuals with state-issued permits legally carry their guns into other states. While circumventing state laws regulating concealed weapons, the bill does not provide new national standards for background checks or gun safety training. Florida screens concealed-carry permit applicants for violent crime convictions and requires them to demonstrate basic competence with guns. If this bill becomes federal law, those restrictions will be meaningless. Someone prohibited by Florida law from obtaining a concealed-carry permit, such as a convicted domestic abuser, could go to a state with fewer restrictions — or one that doesn’t even require a permit, like Mississippi — and return to Florida with a gun. And that would be perfectly legal.
The bill has drawn opposition from law enforcement groups, whose job would be harder and more dangerous with more concealed weapons on the street and little means of ascertaining whether they’re legal. To win some Democratic votes, the bill was combined with a measure that strengthens requirements for agencies to report legal and mental health records to the national background check system. That’s the only responsible provision in the legislation, and it does not cancel out all the bad ones, such as allowing visitors to national parks to carry concealed weapons.
But it checked the most important box of all for Republicans in Congress: It’s the top legislative priority of the NRA. Fortunately for Americans who care about reducing gun violence, the bill’s prospects in the Senate are uncertain. Tampa Bay lawmakers fell into predictable line, with Republicans Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor, Vern Buchanan of Sarasota, Daniel Webster of Clermont and Dennis Ross of Lakeland all voting yes. (Democrats Kathy Castor of Tampa and Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg voted no.) Two South Florida Republicans, Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, were among 14 Republicans who voted against the bill, which passed 231-198.
With the nation newly shaken by another burst of gun violence, Congress had a chance to respond with meaningful legislation to make Americans safer. Instead, the House went the opposite way, embracing a measure that would enable even people convicted of violent crimes to get their hands on a gun and take it to any state, including Florida, while staying within the law. The Senate should reject it, and Congress should refocus on strengthening background checks on gun purchases.