A race to the bottom on concealed-carry gun laws

When 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner brought a loaded Glock 19 with a 33-round ammunition magazine to a Tucson grocery store parking lot in January, he broke the law only when he opened fire on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others at her constituent event. Under Arizona law, no permit is required to carry a concealed handgun outside the home.

As the incident demonstrated, such a lax approach would seem to invite mayhem in the streets. But Arizona has the right to set such a problematic standard, despite such evidence as the recent study by a Stanford economist demonstrating that right-to-carry laws do not decrease the overall level of crime and perhaps even increase it.

What Arizonans should not have the right to do is force such laissez-faire gun control standards on Maryland; nor should those who live in Alabama, Tennessee, Florida or any of the other states where concealed-handgun permits are much more easily acquired. Yet that's exactly what some in Congress would like to see happen.

Under the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011, sponsored by Florida Republican Rep. Cliff Stearns, every state except for Illinois (which bans concealed handguns entirely) would be required to honor concealed-carry permits issued by any other state. Thus, the lowest possible gun standards would prevail even in jurisdictions that have worked more diligently to keeps guns out of the hands of dangerous people.

Think there's no way that Republicans, who customarily trumpet states' rights at the drop of a health care reform act, would allow the federal government to so blatantly ignore local prerogatives? The bill already has 243 co-sponsors in the House, more than enough to win approval in the GOP-controlled chamber.

The motivation of the National Rifle Association and other advocates for the bill is clear. Gun owners who live in states with permissive laws are frustrated when they find themselves traveling in states that aren't similarly permissive or don't offer reciprocity. They'd like to be able to carry their handguns wherever they go, regardless of local restrictions, but that hardly makes it the prudent choice for states.

It implies that arming more people makes the streets safer, a notion that common sense and experience deny. The more lax the gun laws, the more likely that dangerous people will acquire handguns, as a recent report by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence profiling 13 murderers who held concealed-carry permits makes clear.

Nor is it reasonable to assume that the law would affect only a small number of individuals who are properly trained and responsible gun owners. The reality is that local standards for permits vary wildly, and states with outrageously lax permit requirements have issued hundreds of thousands of them without much oversight. Florida, for instance, has sent more than 90,000 to people who don't even live there (on top of the 800,000 issued in-state).

Cities like Baltimore do not need an influx of guns or Jared Lee Loughners on the streets. Its residents and elected officials have worked too hard to pass laws to get guns out of the hands of the dangerous to have Congress invite more armed people into our neighborhoods.

Local restrictions on concealed-carry permits are hardly an assault on the Second Amendment. Nor did the Supreme Court's Heller decision of several years ago sweep away all gun control standards — as a recent federal judge's ruling in New York upholding that state's substantial conceal-carry permit requirements demonstrated.

States have the right to set reasonable restrictions. When it comes to gun laws, Congress should not mandate a race to the bottom. This is one bill that deserves to be put on the shelf before it has a chance to instigate more gun violence in communities that already have more than enough.

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