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Public Statements

National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. SMITH of Texas. Madam Chairwoman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

H.R. 822, the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011, was introduced by Mr. Stearns of Florida and Mr. Shuler of North Carolina and is cosponsored by 245 Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. This landmark legislation recognizes the importance of the Second Amendment and makes it easier for individuals with concealed carry permits to travel to other States. Forty-nine States now allow concealed carry permits, and 40 of these States also extend some degree of reciprocity to permit holders from other States.

This bill simply applies the States' reciprocal agreements nationwide. This legislation requires States that currently allow people to carry concealed firearms to recognize other States' valid concealed carry permits, much like States recognize driver's licenses issued by other States. The bill recognizes the right of States to determine eligibility requirements for their own residents.

State, local, and Federal laws and regulations regarding how, when, and where a concealed firearm can be carried that apply to a resident will apply equally to a nonresident. For example, many States bar individuals from carrying firearms in a bar, at a sporting event, or in a State park. Under this legislation, all of these restrictions will apply to nonresidents as well.

H.R. 822 also addresses concerns regarding the ability of law enforcement agencies to confirm the validity of an out-of-state concealed carry permit. The bill requires a person to show both a valid government-issued identification document, such as a license or passport, and a valid concealed carry license or permit.

State law enforcement agencies can verify the validity of an out-of-state concealed permit through the Nlets system. Nlets is available to law enforcement officials in all 50 States 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Data from the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report shows that right-to-carry States, or those that widely allow concealed carry, have 22 percent lower total violent crime rates, 30 percent lower murder rates, 46 percent lower robbery rates, and 12 percent lower aggravated assault rates, as compared to the rest of the country.

Opponents of this bill have noted that some States would be required to recognize concealed carry permits issued by States with different standards of eligibility. However, 40 States already grant reciprocity to other States, including to States with different eligibility requirements. The States would not do this if different eligibility requirements were a concern.

The Second Amendment is a fundamental right to bear arms that should not be constrained by State boundary lines. Opposition to this legislation comes from those who believe concealed carry permit holders often commit violent crimes, which is demonstrably false, or from those who want to restrict the right of law-abiding citizens to bear arms. This legislation enhances public safety and protects the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment. I urge my colleagues to support H.R. 822.

Madam Chairwoman, I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. SMITH of Texas. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

This amendment undercuts the uniform eligibility standard that forms the foundation of this legislation. The underlying bill allows individuals with valid State-issued permits to carry a concealed firearm in all other States that also authorize concealed carry. This Second Amendment right to bear arms is, therefore, limited by this amendment.

Forty-nine States authorize concealed carry, and 40 of those States have reciprocity agreements with all or some of the other concealed-carry States. But these agreements vary from State to State, creating a patchwork of laws that limits reciprocity, creates confusion for gun owners, and undermines the Second Amendment. The amendment offered by the gentleman from Georgia keeps this patchwork in place by exempting States with reciprocity agreements from the bill. The amendment prevents individuals from taking advantage of nationwide concealed-carry reciprocity unless the State they reside in has a separate agreement with the State they wish to travel to.

While I appreciate my colleague's dedication to the concept of States' rights, I think it is misapplied to this legislation. H.R. 822 upholds States' rights in several important ways:

First, it does not apply to those jurisdictions that prohibit concealed carry, such as Illinois and the District of Columbia;

Second, the bill does not affect a State's right to set eligibility requirements for its own residents;

Third, H.R. 822 does not impact State laws governing how concealed firearms are possessed or carried within the various States. All State, Federal, and local laws that prohibit, for example, carrying a concealed handgun in a public building or a place of worship apply equally to any nonresident concealed-carry holder; and

Fourth, this legislation does not create any authority for the Federal Government to regulate concealed-carry permits. No Federal agency has any role in the implementation or oversight of this bill which is left, rightfully, up to the States. But, most importantly, this bill respects and protects an individual's right to bear arms while they are traveling.

In two recent decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that the Second Amendment endows individuals with the right to keep and bear arms, and this right is based in large part on the right to defend one's self. Americans don't need to simply defend themselves in their homes. They must also be able to defend themselves outside their homes and while traveling to other States.

Eighty percent of violent crime occurs outside the home, according to the Justice Department. Americans cannot fully be empowered to defend themselves if they are prevented from exercising all their Second Amendment rights. H.R. 822 advances the Second Amendment right to bear arms, and I regret, I believe this amendment infringes upon that right.

For these reasons, I oppose the amendment, and I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. SMITH of Texas. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself the balance of my time.

The whole point of this bill is to allow those who have concealed-carry permits to freely carry their weapons into other States that also have and recognize concealed-carry permits.

If we were to accept this amendment, in my judgment, we would be infringing upon the Second Amendment. I feel that the Second Amendment should be enforced. We ought to interpret it broadly. We ought to allow individuals to take advantage of their Second Amendment rights, travel freely from one State to another without restrictions except for the restrictions that are required locally by their State and local governments.

I mentioned awhile ago that one recognition of State prerogatives that we have in the bill is that, for example, if one State does not allow individuals who have concealed-carry permits to go into a public building or a sports event or some other type of location, they are not going to be allowed to do so even if they have a concealed-carry permit from out of State.

So, once again, we need to respect the right that is given to us by the Second Amendment in a complete, full way. We need to allow individuals with concealed-carry permits to travel freely from State to State. This underlying bill does that, with one exception: the State of Illinois does not recognize concealed-carry permits. You would not be able to carry a weapon into that State. But except for that one State, we need to embrace the Second Amendment in every way that we can practically, recognize the Supreme Court has done the same thing, and allow individuals to travel with those concealed-carry permits.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. SMITH of Texas. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

This amendment frustrates the basic purpose of H.R. 822. It requires that States pass legislation to implement the bill's provisions.

The Supreme Court, in two recent cases, has recognized a fundamental individual right to bear arms that is largely based on the right to defend oneself and one's family. Over 80 percent of violent crime occurs outside of one's home, according to the Department of Justice. This means that for the right to bear arms in self-defense to have any meaning, law-abiding citizens with permits should be able to carry firearms outside of their homes and sometimes across State boundaries.

Under current law 40 States have established a patchwork of reciprocal agreements that can be confusing for concealed-carry permit holders to navigate. H.R. 822 provides uniformity to our concealed-carry laws by creating nationwide reciprocity for concealed-carry permit holders. By contrast, this amendment allows States to opt out of H.R. 822's Federal grant of reciprocity. And it provides that only States that choose to pass laws implementing the legislation must recognize out-of-state concealed-carry permits. This amendment would, in effect, just continue the status quo and so would be of no help to individuals with concealed-carry permits.

Since 2004 police officers have enjoyed the right to use a concealed-carry permit to take a firearm across State lines. And, in 2010, President Obama signed legislation to include other law enforcement personnel who could take advantage of this ability. It is ironic that some of these groups now want to deny this same right to law-abiding citizens with concealed-carry permits.

According to a 2009 Zogby poll, 83 percent of those polled said they supported concealed-carry laws--83 percent. Over 4 million Americans across the country have qualified for a concealed-carry permit. They, most likely, endorse this legislation.

I appreciate the gentlewoman from New York's mentioning States' prerogatives, and I hope she will express the same sentiments about other pieces of legislation. H.R. 822 retains the States' ability to regulate firearms in their own States by making clear that all State regulations regarding how a firearm is carried continue to apply to both residents and nonresidents, and by keeping in place the State's own permitting process.

I urge my colleagues to join me in opposing this amendment, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. SMITH of Texas. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

This amendment allows States to prohibit nonresidents from carrying a concealed firearm if they did not take part in a firearm safety class that included a live-fire exercise as part of the permitting process. This amendment would, for the first time ever, insert the Federal Government into the State's concealed-carry permitting process. H.R. 822, by contrast, protects each State's ability to set its own eligibility requirements for concealed-carry permits.

Thirty-seven States require some degree of firearms training. The gentleman from Georgia's home State, interestingly, does not require any training and, thus, under this amendment, its citizens would not be able to enjoy the Federal grant of reciprocity provided by H.R. 822.

The States carry out their training requirements in a number of ways. Some States allow applicants to certify their proficiency through classroom training, while other States recognize prior military or police service to meet these requirements. Virginia, for example, provides eight different ways to meet the training requirements.

This amendment is silent on a number of important issues. Is prior military or law enforcement service sufficient to meet the live-fire requirement? Does an applicant need to go through this training each time they renew their permit or is it sufficient to have completed a course the first time they applied? These ambiguities give us more reason to oppose this amendment.

We know that concealed-carry laws do reduce crime. A study by John Lott and David Mustard found that when concealed-carry laws went into effect, murders fell by over 7 percent and rapes and aggravated assaults fell by 5 and 7 percent, respectively. These findings have been confirmed by 18 other studies, but none have found that concealed carry increases crime.

The benefit of concealed-carry laws should not be measured only by the instances of self-defense, but also by the number of crimes that are prevented from occurring in the first place.

I urge my colleagues to oppose this amendment, and I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. SMITH of Texas. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

This is one of three amendments under consideration today that would allow the States to opt out of the nationwide concealed-carry system that H.R. 822 seeks to establish. This undermines the bill's goal of creating national uniformity in our concealed-carry laws.

This amendment provides that every State attorney general, head of police, and secretary of State must certify that the concealed-carry eligibility laws of every other State are substantially similar to their own before the State can participate in this legislation's grant of reciprocity. This is obviously intended to be overly burdensome both to those with concealed-carry permits and to the States themselves. It is also simply a way for State officials who do not support the Second Amendment right to bear arms to decide that their State will not recognize out-of-State concealed-carry permits.

The amendment also incorrectly assumes that there are critical differences between the States' eligibility requirements, which is simply not the case. Each State has a vested interest in making sure that those with a propensity towards violence are not granted a concealed-carry permit. Every State conducts a thorough background check so that unqualified individuals will not be able to carry a concealed firearm. The eligibility standards used by the States are more similar than not. The fact that there may be small differences among the States' eligibility laws should not allow a State to prohibit the exercise of Second Amendment rights within its boundaries.

Also, Federal and State laws governing the purchase of a firearm must be complied with before a person can even apply for a concealed-carry permit. In order to purchase a firearm or take advantage of the reciprocity extended by H.R. 822, a person convicted of a felony or a domestic violence misdemeanor cannot legally purchase a firearm under Federal law. A person must also be cleared through the Federal Bureau of Investigation's National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, before they can purchase a firearm.

Data from the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report show that right-to-carry States, those that widely allow concealed-carry permits, have 22 percent lower total violent crime rates, 30 percent lower murder rates, 46 percent lower robbery rates, and 12 percent lower aggravated assault rates as compared to the rest of the country. This amendment allows the current patchwork of concealed-carry laws to continue and ignores the right to bear arms guaranteed by the Second Amendment.

For those reasons, I oppose this amendment, and I reserve the balance of my time.

The Acting CHAIR. The gentleman from Rhode Island has 30 seconds remaining.

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