House passes reciprocity bill, but some gun rights supporters aren't happy

  • 8 December 2017
  • NormanL
House passes reciprocity bill, but some gun rights supporters aren't happy

The House of Representatives passed a national concealed carry bill on Wednesday by a vote of 231-198. The bill, a priority for some gun rights organizations, would, according to Reuters, "require states to recognize each others’ permits for carrying hidden and loaded firearms while in public."

But the bill does a few other things as well:

Also included in House GOP gun package is a proposal to improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the national system of criminal background checks managed by the FBI. Calls for an NICS revamp grew louder after the recent mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, which left 26 churchgoers dead. After the shooting, the Air Force revealed it had failed to report the gunman’s 2012 conviction on domestic violence to the database, which would have barred him from making a lawful gun purchase.

A third provision requests that Attorney General Jeff Sessions give an official Justice Department position on whether the use of "bump stocks" — a device that increases the rate of fire for semi-automatic rifles — would lead to additional criminal penalties. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is evaluating whether it can regulate bump-stock sales.

There was some controversy about these provisions. In addition to the broader idea that the legislation tramples the idea of federalism, it also, effectively, nationalizes federal concealed carry permits. On its Facebook page, the House Liberty Caucus decried the legislation as anti-Second Amendment because they believe it expands federal power into areas it does not belong:

This amended bill, which combines the Fix NICS Act with a shortsighted attempt at concealed carry reciprocity, undermines the Second Amendment and empowers the federal government to unconstitutionally regulate firearms.

The Fix NICS Act encourages states and federal agencies to submit names and records to a national database used to deny Americans’ right to keep and bear arms. Individuals are often added to this database without just cause or due process, and FBI reports reveal that thousands of Americans have had their gun rights unconstitutionally abridged because this system returned inaccurate or invalid information. Such individuals, who may not even have been convicted of crimes, face overwhelming bureaucratic hurdles to correct these records or have themselves removed from the database.

The Fix NICS Act exacerbates the constitutional problems with the program by reauthorizing hundreds of millions of dollars in grant funding to states in exchange for adding names to NICS. It also increases federal involvement in how states design and run their criminal records systems to increase NICS reporting.

Additionally, H.R. 38 uses the Commerce Clause, a constitutional provision both parties abuse when trying to increase the size and scope of the federal government, to expand federal authority over concealed carry permits. The Second Amendment, not the Commerce Clause, secures our right to keep and bear arms. H.R. 38 expands federal power over a right that “shall not be infringed,” and, by using the Commerce Clause, it sets a dangerous precedent that future Congresses may use to expand regulations on firearms.

Congressman Tom Massie, chairman of the House Second Amendment Caucus, went further in his criticism of the bill, charging that the merging of the Fix NICS Act with the far more popular concealed carry bill was a legislative "switcheroo."

His broader criticism was that the Fix NCIS provisions will lead to a larger, more powerful, administrative state:

The bill encourages administrative agencies, not the courts, to submit more names to a national database that will determine whether you can or can’t obtain a firearm. When President Obama couldn’t get Congress to pass gun control, he implemented a strategy of compelling, through administrative rules, the Veterans Administration and the Social Security Administration to submit lists of veterans and seniors, many of whom never had a day in court, to be included in the NICS database of people prohibited from owning a firearm. Only a state court, a federal (article III) court, or a military court, should ever be able to suspend your rights for any significant period of time.

Does the NICS background check system have problems? Yes, it results in tens of thousands of unjustified denials of gun purchases every year. But like many bills in Congress, the fix-NICS doesn’t live up to its name – it will likely do the opposite. It throws millions of dollars at a faulty program and it will result in more law-abiding citizens being deprived of their right to keep and bear arms.

Massie's concerns about the NCIS amendments has merit, and the Senate should separate those out of the concealed carry bill when it takes up its deliberations.

Merging a vague gun control measure with a broadly pro-Second Amendment bill is how Washington works -- to get the good, everyone has to swallow the bad. The Senate could fix all this, and perhaps it will (no guarantees). Have two separate measures. Let each be decided on its merits.