A Philosopher's Blog

National Concealed Carry Reciprocity

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on December 14, 2016

Most states in the United States require citizens to acquire a concealed carry permit to legally carry a concealed weapon, typically a pistol.  Some states, such as Florida, have permits that allow citizens to carry a range of weapons, while other states limit concealed carry to handguns. Some states allow citizens to conceal carry without a permit. While there are some similarities between the state requirements for a concealed carry permit, they do vary. For example, Florida requires applicants to undergo fingerprinting for a background check. Maine, in contrast, does not (or did not, the last time I got my permit). As it now stands, states do not always accept permits from other states. For example, Maine does not have reciprocity with Florida. However, many states do accept permits from other states, although this can change quickly.

Because not all states have reciprocity, the NRA has been backing legislation that would mandate concealed carry permit reciprocity across all the states. Laying aside the stock appeals to the Second Amendment, there are a variety of arguments that can be advanced in favor of this legislation.

One of the standard approaches is an argument from analogy comparing the driver’s license to the concealed carry permit. The gist of the reasoning is that just as states do (and should) accept drivers’ licenses from all other states, they should do the same for concealed carry permits. The analogy can be unpacked into more specific reasons.

It is contended that having reciprocity would create a consistent system in which a person licensed to carry in one state would be licensed to carry in another state and they would not need to worry about having to check to see if such reciprocity existed. A person who needed to carry in multiple states would also not need to go through the hassle and expense of getting multiple permits. Currently, when states lack reciprocity a person needs to do just that and the permit process can involve considerable paperwork and the cost can approach or even exceed $100. I had to go through this process to get a permit for my adopted state of Florida and my home state of Maine. As such, I find the convenience, consistency and cost savings based arguments appealing. There are, however, some reasonable arguments against such reciprocity.

One stock concern is that the reciprocity law would set the requirements for concealed carry permits to the weakest requirements in the United States. In general, states do allow non-residents to acquire permits, so a person in a strict state could bypass those strict requirements by getting a permit from the most permissive state. The strict state would then be required to honor the permit.

One easy counter for this would be to do away with non-resident permits and thus require people to follow the rules of their state (this would make permits analogous to driver’s licenses). Because states would have reciprocity, there would be no reason to have non-resident permits anymore—they would be rendered pointless by the law. Except, of course, as a means of bypassing the requirements of specific states.

The elimination of non-resident permits would not be without problems. One concern is the matter of fairness. Suppose that New York had very strict requirements and Texas had very loose requirements. While New Yorkers would not be able to bypass the requirements by getting non-resident permits from Texas, Texans could come to New York and carry using their Texas permits.

A counter to this would be to require that all states have comparable requirements. The obvious problem with this is that it leads back to the original concern about the state with the weakest requirements setting the standard for all states. This could be addressed by developing a uniform national standard that all states accept. This would presumably increase the requirements for some states and weaken them for others, but this would be a matter of practical politics and could be worked out.

A second concern is based on stock conservative arguments about state rights and local control. As it now stands, states have the right to set their own permit requirements and to decide which states they will grant reciprocity to. The reciprocity law would rob the states of this power and take away local control, presumably replacing it with rules imposed by the federal government.

This imposition on the state could be ideologically problematic.  Gun right folks tend to also profess a commitment to states’ rights and local control while expressing a dislike and distrust of federal power. One way to get around this problem is to note that gun rights folks are fine with the Second Amendment and this is a national law. This could provide the basis for a principled rejection of state and local rights in favor of imposing a national concealed carry reciprocity law. Of course, the principle used to justify this could also be used to justify other laws that many gun rights folks might not like. But, that is a common problem with principles: following principles means that one does not always get what one likes.

Another way around the problem is to take the usual approach: people want what they want and consistency is irrelevant. Principles are just rhetorical points to be used or ignored as needed to get what one wants. People who like what is being done tend to forget such inconsistencies and easily lay aside principles until they match up with what they want. Then they pull these principles from the trash and insist on their absolute importance. As such, there is usually little practical cost for such an approach. And who really worries about ethics?

From a purely selfish and practical standpoint, I am fine with having such reciprocity. If it becomes law, I will only need to renew one permit, thus saving me money and time. However, I can look beyond my own selfish interests and recognize that there are legitimate concerns about such a law. From an abstract standpoint, my main concern is the imposition on state’s rights and local control. From a more practical standpoint, I am concerned about potentially harmful unintended consequences.


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5 Responses

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  1. DH said, on December 14, 2016 at 11:27 am

    We have had a family vacation spot in Massachusetts for many years. I remember those days of crossing the NH border to buy beer for our Sunday afternoon barbecue …

    Reciprocity does make sense in many instances. State’s rights are very important, but so is consistency. It’s a balance that this country has struggled with since the beginning.

    While I generally fall on the side of State’s Rights in most instances, there are examples where the consistency absolutely makes sense. The cafe standards for gasoline are one example of the latter – because states have varying standards for the blending of gasoline, it is impossible to have one state use a surplus to offset a shortfall in another. By requiring refiners to follow 52 individual sets of standards, this brings the price of gasoline way up and taxes workers and commuters heavily. It would be better to even apply California’s strictest standards across the board – it would solve a host of problems in the market.

    The issue of guns is one where I would, generally speaking, seek to employ some reciprocity for the convenience of gun owners, but I would balk at any sort of federal oversight to this. Anyone who has read my posts is familiar with my cynicism and reluctance to give any unnecessary power or revenue stream to the federal government if goals can be reached through states.

    So I don’t know the answer – perhaps it can be solved with something similar to an “enhanced driver’s license”. I have one of those, and it stands in lieu of a passport when traveling to Canada and maybe some other places. It was initially more expensive and required a little more background check, but now I have it and it’s a done deal. Gun owners who have no reason to travel would not need to obtain this permit, those who do could go to the extra expense at the onset and be done with it. I am not pushing that idea, merely thinking out loud.

    Gun ownership and concealed carry are a kind of dicey subject anyway – ownership is a federally protected right as of today, and as such any time an individual state imposes restrictions they are entering some constitutional gray areas.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 14, 2016 at 6:49 pm

      The idea of an enhanced permit is one worth considering.

      A federal system would probably face opposition, since that would provide the feds with a list of gun owners. Of course, they could cull the data from the states–but that could require more effort and could face resistance.

  2. TJB said, on December 14, 2016 at 11:40 am

    It is a shame when someone gets subjected to a draconian punishment because he forgot that his gun was in his glove compartment when he crossed a state line.

  3. nailheadtom said, on December 15, 2016 at 3:11 pm

    The second amendment to the constitution is crystal clear, written in words that need no judicial interpretation. If it’s unsatisfactory, there’s a process to change it.

    Furthermore, in the context of the era of its adoption, “arms” doesn’t just refer to firearms but all the implements of violence used at that time, pikes, swords, maces, and knives. State laws regulating knives are also violations of the constitution.

  4. skjos96 said, on January 5, 2017 at 4:42 pm

    I like the idea of a two permit system with both styles of permits being issued by the state:
    – The in-state permit would be issued to the states standards.
    – The interstate permit would be issued by the state to federal standards.

    The federal standards would be more stringent than some state requirements and less stringent than others. Those folks in New York would just get the permit that meets the federal standards because it would be more obtainable than the state permit. Those in constitutional carry states would just carry on without meeting the federal standards, unless they wanted to carry outside the state.

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