Law enforcement and local officials say states shouldn’t be forced to honor out-of-state concealed-carry permits.
In 2009, Philadelphia revoked Marquis Hill’s concealed-carry permit. Hill appealed the decision, but it was denied .
Later, Hill used the Internet to legally obtain a concealed-carry permit from the state of Florida. Because of reciprocity agreements between the two states, now Hill was able to legally carry a concealed weapon in Pennsylvania, despite Philadelphia law enforcement's previous decision.
A year ago this week, Hill shot 18-year-old Irving Santana 13 times after catching him breaking into cars. The incident is an example of a loophole law enforcement officials hope to eliminate by opposing the bill H.R. 822 , the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011.
The bill, introduced in the U.S. House by Representatives Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) and Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) in February, would allow any person with a valid state-issued concealed-firearm permit to carry a concealed firearm in any state that issues concealed firearm permits.
"H.R. 822 would nationalize the ill-conceived policy that put a gun in Marquis Hill’s hands," Philadelphia Police Department Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey told the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday morning.
Ramsey, along with David B. Kopel, Adjunct Professor at Denver University Sturm College of Law, and Joyce Lee Malcolm, a law professor at George Mason University, presented opposing testimonies on the potential effects and concerns of H.R. 822 becoming law.
Experts, including Malcolm and Kopel, say H.R. 822 will lead to a safer society by making a federal law that allows gun owners to carry concealed weapons across state lines, but law enforcement and local officials say it would increase danger for their guys on the street.
"Since 1991 when crime peaked, millions of guns have been purchased…but violent crime has been declining," Malcolm said. Based on her research on gun policies in both the U.S. and Britain, Malcolm says more restrictions on handguns lead to more handgun crimes. After completely banning them in Britain, handgun crime doubled, she testified. And among permit holders in the U.S., very few commit gun crimes, she said.
Kopel said the current laws discriminate against travelers based on the fact that they're visitors from another state who may be unfamiliar with the area, making them easy targets for criminals. "To be deprived of the right to self defense while driving" is to be denied the right to travel freely and safely, he said. Most states already have reciprocity agreements with other states and 49 states allowed concealed carry, he added.
Republican congressmen said H.R. 822 would act the same way as driver’s licenses across state lines. But Ramsey said the law fails to provide any way for officers to verify out-of-state permits, among other shortcomings.
"There’s not even a database to determine whether it’s a valid permit. Many permits from other states don't even have photographs on the permit. It’s simply a card with writing on it," Ramsey said.
Ramsey feels that states should have the choice to reject reciprocity for states like Florida whose requirements for a concealed carry permit aren’t up to par.
"We've denied permits and the same individual gets a permit from Florida, even though we’ve denied them the permit in Pennsylvania," Ramsey said. In Philadelphia, charges of stalking, impersonating a police officer, and domestic violence problems make a person ineligible for a permit.
In his written testimony , Ramsey said 36 states did not issue permits to people under the age of 21. Only 35 states require some kind of gun safety training or live-fire practice.
H.R. 822 would mean more concealed weapons in the hands of more people who haven’t been trained in use of force and weapons handling, he said.
And "This is all happening in the context of a traffic stop where tensions may already be running high. The officer is faced with an individual who has a loaded gun, and the officer is unable to verify whether the person is carrying that gun legally. With this law in effect, police would see an out-of-state permit, and simply be required to honor it," he added.
On Monday, a coalition of 600 mayors, along with police organizations, domestic violence groups, and prosecutors, announced a campaign to defend the states’ rights to decide who can carry concealed weapons. In less than five days more than 45,000 signed a petition against the bill.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) argue that it would make things easier for traffickers to move guns across state lines. "If a trafficker simply displays an out-of-state concealed-carry permit, even if they have a trunk full of guns they brought from another state, a police officer would be obliged to let them go unless the trafficker was actually caught in the act of illegally selling a gun," MAIG said in a press release.
"We as police leaders cannot leave our officers, whose safety is our first priority, without a mechanism to determine if the permit they hold in their hands is real and valid," Ramsey said.
"The right-to-carry a concealed and loaded gun is already a highly contested debate. I ask Congress to leave this debate where it should remain, as a decision for each state."
photo of Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey by Irish Philadelphia Photo Essays from flickr