Earlier this week Rep. Gabby Giffords gave her first television interview after January’s tragic shooting in Tucson, Arizona. I was amazed by her strength and perseverance and continue to keep her in my thoughts and prayers as she recovers from her injury. We all await her return to Congress.
While Rep. Giffords’ story of recovery is inspirational, the tragedy of her shooting and those who died and were seriously injured that sad day, is another example of the gun violence epidemic the American people have become all too familiar with.
It was only four years ago that the Commonwealth was struck by similar, senseless gun violence. As we all remember, Virginia Tech lost 32 of it’s best and brightest teachers and students in 2007 to a deranged madman with a high capacity magazine which allowed him to fire off a spray of bullets in a matter of seconds.
As a legislator, I look at every situation affecting Northern Virginia and the country from the perspective of what could be done to improve the public good. I am of the opinion that easy access to high powered guns in our society contributes to these tragedies.
This week, Congress brought up a piece of legislation that would go even further in the wrong direction by relaxing concealed carry laws. The bill is just another example of the gun lobby’s efforts to take our nation back to the Wild West. The legislation, the “National Right-To-Carry Reciprocity Act”, would require states to honor the concealed carry permits of other states, allowing an individual from one of 15 states who can legally obtain a concealed carry permit without completing a single safety training course.
Currently, any state can enter into a reciprocity agreement with another state to accept each others concealed carry permits. According to the Virginia State Police, “one of the reasons that reciprocity may not be established is based on the lack of verification capability (accessible 24 hours, 7 days a week) by the other states.”
This bill ignores that concern by removing state-by-state discretion, replacing it with an ambiguous, lowest-common-denominator federal directive. Considering the current House majority routinely touts its defense of states’ rights, this reversal of precedent in order to check off another item on the National Rifle Association’s legislative wish list is particularly appalling.
In practice, this could present a risk for a law enforcement officer who, for instance, discovers a firearm in the midst of a traffic stop but cannot immediately determine whether the driver is in fact legally allowed to carry that weapon. The Virginia Chiefs of Police, which opposes the bill, stated that “H.R. 822 would severely undermine state concealed carry licensing systems by allowing out of state visitors to carry concealed firearms even if those visitors have not met the standards for carrying a concealed weapon in the state they are visiting.” The job of law enforcement is already perilous enough without adding this burden to quickly and accurately verify the validity of a permit.
The “National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act” is an irresponsible incursion into policy that is best left to the individual states. From our founding onward, states have been the government entity that established the criteria for how firearms can be carried in public within their jurisdiction and who can carry them. This reflects the notion that each state is in the best position to determine the risks and benefits of concealed carry laws.
It’s a sad commentary on Congress that, in the wake of a national gun-related tragedy, a bill that weakens gun regulations and undermines the efforts of law enforcement is brought to the floor. In the face of the enormous pressure of the NRA lobby, we must not give up our efforts to build safer communities. I will continue pressing for the House to act to better protect the public from the next madman or psychopath bent on mayhem. Voting against this bill is one step forward in that we can take towards that end.
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.