The term “national reciprocity” refers to a federal law requiring all states to recognize licenses or permits issued by other states to its citizens allowing them to carry self-defense handguns. This is not the law yet, but with the election of Donald Trump as President, the chance of such a bill passing in Congress is greatly improved. If so, it would work just like driving a motor vehicle in a state other than your home state. You still must abide by the other states’ traffic laws and gun-owners would have to abide by the gun laws in the states where their permit or license is recognized.
This is hardly a new concept. Most states have entered into voluntary reciprocity agreements with other states such that carry licenses issued from some states are recognized in other states. Texas currently has reciprocity agreements with 32 states while three more either recognize the Texas license without a formal agreement, or do not require a permit to carry a self-defense handgun. Some of these agreements have been in place for decades while a few were only recently negotiated. During this time, licensees from all states have proven themselves to be just as law-abiding and responsible outside the borders of their home states as they have been in their state of residence. Other states have reciprocity agreements with each other states, but the number of states covered by those agreements are typically far fewer than Texas enjoys.
Passing national reciprocity isn’t like launching Alan Shephard into space on May 5, 1961. He was the first American in space and there was no history or experience on which he or NASA could draw. He was a human guinea pig whose job was to test the theories and equipment created by NASA’s best. In Texas alone, we have over 20 years experience with citizens carrying self-defense handguns. Some states have had license laws in place longer, some for a shorter period of time. While Texas is the only state to publish crime statistics for the general public and licensees in great detail, data for other states indicate their licensees also have a good track record in terms of being law-abiding, responsible citizens who do not misuse their self-defense handguns. This is not May, 1961 and we are not operating in a vacuum. The data proves that licensees are not a threat to public safety. Indeed, their presence increases public safety.
Some will argue that voluntary reciprocity agreements work well, so why is national reciprocity needed? It is needed because not all states will enter into such agreements. There are approximately fourteen states that will not enter into an agreement with Texas, in spite of the fact that thirty-five states recognize the Texas License to Carry a Handgun. As noted earlier, few if any other states enjoy the number of reciprocity agreements Texas has negotiated, with the possible exception of Florida. The result is people are prohibited from possessing the tools necessary to defend themselves and their loved ones from violent attack. This guts the constitutional right to self-defense recognized in the Heller decision.
While all 50 states currently have a handgun carry permit or license law in place, some do not even issue permits to residents unless they are wealthy and/or politically connected. Anti-gun people and organizations will condescendingly say “well don’t go to those states.” Even if one were to accept the concept of a state trampling the right of self-defense, not all trips are voluntary. Business and family emergencies often dictate one’s travel plans. No man or woman should have to choose between being equipped to defend themselves and remaining gainfully employed or visiting a relative in the hospital or attending their funeral. The typically callus attitude about self-defense and guns exhibited by anti-gun people and organizations is not merely insulting; it ignores reality.
Anti-gun people and organizations use the same false predictions of death and destruction if national reciprocity passes as they claim every time a pro-gun bill is filed. In Texas, these claims were heard when a state preemption law passed in 1987, when concealed-carry passed in 1995, when governmental agencies lost the legal authority to post 30.06 signs in 2003, when the Motorists Protection Act passed in 2007 allowing Texans to have handguns in their cars without a concealed handgun license, and when open-carry and campus-carry passed in 2015. Every single time the parade-of-horribles never came to pass, but that doesn’t stop liars from spewing lies. Again, this isn’t May, 1961 and we have decades of experience upon which to draw. That experience proves that national reciprocity will not be a threat to public safety.
Generally speaking, there are two groups of gun-owners who are concerned about national reciprocity and do not want to see it pass. In the first group are people and organizations whose business models are 1) attack the NRA with false allegations; and 2) ask people for money to allow them to continue to do so. Dishonesty in this group is a rampant as in any anti-gun organization. Consider this when hearing or reading attacks on the NRA and/or national reciprocity: These people and organizations have never passed a single pro-gun bill, nor have they killed a single anti-gun bill. They make money by fearmongering and lying.
The second group is populated by people who legitimately worry about federal intervention into this area. They fear that a national reciprocity law will result in the federal government establishing 1) eligibility, training and renewal requirements in order to obtain a license to carry a handgun; and 2) off-limits locations for people with a handgun license. Unfortunately, these fears are likely based upon false information spread by people and organizations in the first group.
Intellectual honesty demands that I agree that federal intervention into matters that the U.S. Constitution leaves to the police powers of the states should be avoided at all costs. Intellectual honesty also demands that everyone acknowledge that we are far past the beginning point of an unconstitutional invasion by the feds into the police powers of the state. The purest approach would be to repeal all such laws that offend the Constitution. However, unlike theoretical physicists, we must work in the real world of politics. Repealing all gun laws that violate either the Second Amendment or that invade the police powers of the states is not going to happen in the foreseeable future. Holding to the purest approach and shunning national reciprocity may allow some people to claim they are sticking to their principles. However, their soothed conscience does not help the woman who is raped and murdered, because she had to leave her self-defense handgun at home when she went to her mother’s funeral in New Jersey.
In short, it’s too late to worry about a Martian invasion, they are already here. Federal law already regulates firearms in several aspects from eligibility to possess firearms in general to the federal Gun Free School Zone law. Until and unless the time comes when it is feasible to kick Martians out (get the federal government to act only within Constitutional authority) , then the best we can do is pass a federal law to protect as much of the Constitution as possible. There is no greater core Constitutional right enjoyed by a citizen than the right to protect and preserve their own life. National reciprocity makes this possible.
Some people honestly fear that passing national reciprocity will result in the federal government (either Congress or a regulatory agency) establishing requirements for obtaining a license to carry a handgun and/or off-limits areas for licensees. While this is technically a possibility, the NRA will never let that happen. No Congressional bill will pass that addresses either of these areas of concern. No bill will pass giving the BATFE, FBI or any other federal agency regulatory authority over carrying a handgun. It simply will not happen. If a national reciprocity bill were to be amended to allow federal regulation, then the NRA would kill the bill.
National reciprocity is needed so as to allow citizens to travel our country without having their route or destination deprive them of the ability to defend themselves. States’ rights and the Tenth Amendment are an often-ignored cornerstone of the American republic form of government. Nevertheless, core Constitutional rights apply across state lines and it is long past the time when those rights should be more than an intellectual discussion point. Support national reciprocity when it comes to Congress.