By Brendan Kirby
U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Mobile, and four representatives have signed on to legislation to make it easier for pistol permit holders to carry their weapons to other states.
Currently, permits to carry concealed guns are valid only in states that have negotiated reciprocal agreements. That leaves gun owners at potential risk of breaking the law even in some states that issue pistol permits. South Carolina, for instance, has not reciprocal agreement with Alabama.
That has led to various legislative efforts to make reciprocity automatic. A proposal in 2013 by U.S. Sen John Cornyn, R-Texas, narrowly failed to overcome a Democratic filibuster. This year, he is back for another shot. The Constitutional Conceal Carry Act of 2015 has 23 co-sponsors, including Sessions. It has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
A companion bill has been introduced in the House by Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind. It would make any legally authorized pistol permit to be valid in any state that allows people to carry concealed guns. The gun owner would have to follow the regulations of the state he was in. For instance, some states have more restrictions than others about where concealed guns can be carried.
Some representatives from Alabama have signed on to a pair of similar bills. Reps. Bradley Byrne, R-Fairhope, and Mike Rogers, R-Saks, have co-sponsored the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2015. Byrne and Rogers also are co-sponsors of the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2015, along with Reps. Gary Palmer, R-Hoover, and Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville.
"I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and the right of people to keep and bear arms," Palmer said in a prepared statement. "It doesn't make a lot of sense to have a right that's in the Constitution that stops at the boundaries of a state line. That right is not a state right; it's a federal right."
Seth Morrow, a spokesman for Byrne, noted that his boss signed on as a co-sponsor in the last term of Congress of a bill to grant automatic reciprocity among states that allow concealed guns in public. The sponsor of that bill, Florida Republican Richard Nugent, is sponsoring another bill this year.
"As a dedicated supporter of the Second Amendment, Congressman Byrne strongly supports these commonsense bills," Morrow said in an email. "He would vote in favor of all three of these bills should they come up for a vote in the House."
Critics contend that the Senate bill does not offer enough safeguards to sates with stricter rules governing gun possession. For instance, New York state issues pistol permits but bars gun possession altogether for people who have been convicted of stalking. Under Cornyn's bill, New York would have to honor a pistol permit given to the stalker in another state.
"This bill is a menace to New York and would allow potentially dangerous people from other states to carry concealed weapons in our grocery stores, movie theaters and stadiums, without even notifying the police," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told the New York Daily News.
Supporters of the legislation have expressed some hope that the changed composition of the Senate will improve chances for the bill's passage. It failed to reach the magic filibuster-proof majority of 60 in 2013 by three votes. After the Republican sweep in last year's midterm elections, the GOP now is firmly in control of the chamber.
Many of the Democrats who lost, however, voted in favor of the bill in 2013. So its prospects remain uncertain. It has the support of BamaCarry, a pro-gun group in Alabama that claims more than 1,000 dues-paying members and 11,000 Facebook followers.
"There are going to be a couple of states that are really going to fight against that, ones where it's difficult to get a permit," said Eddie Fulmer, BamaCarry's president. "I just don't know if it has a chance. I think it's a good idea. If my state trusts me, other states should."
Fulmer compared it to driver's licenses, which are honored in all 50 states when drivers cross borders.
While Fulmer supports the federal push, he said much work remains at the state level. He cited his group's support for a law allowing people to have loaded guns in their vehicles without permits. The proposal has met stiff resistance.
"It's quite frustrating," he said.