Earlier this year, a new bill was introduced into the House and Senate that could throw New York’s system of concealed carry weapon enforcement into chaos.
In New York, residents can become licensed gun owners if they are 21 years old, a U.S. citizen, and are not convicted of any felony, do not use controlled substances, have suffered from mental illness or have been discharged from the Army, among other requirements. The laws, however, regarding concealed carry—who can own them, what it takes to get them and where gun owners can carry their concealed weapons—vary by state.
Some states, like California, require proof of responsible ownership alongside an extensive vetting process, while other states, like Arizona and Oklahoma, boast markedly lax permit laws, where some residents can carry concealed weapons without a license at all. States have always decided upon their own concealed carry regulations, but that may be about to change.
The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, also known as H.R. 38, was introduced January 12 by Rep. Richard Hudson (R- North Carolina) and boasts 188 co-sponsors at the moment, 185 of them Republican. H.R. 38 would amend the federal criminal code to allow a qualified individual to carry a concealed weapon outside of their state of registration, provided that second state also allows for concealed carry.
Concealed carry regulations between these two states don’t necessarily have to be equal, though, which means individuals could obtain permits in states where policies are lax, then move to states boasting greater stringency without being subject to those added restrictions.
This is precisely what Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. and New York City Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill fear. In a press release distributed earlier this month the pair, among others, they urged Congress to reject the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act.
“Concealed carry reciprocity is an attack on local law enforcement, and an attack on local laws,” said Vance. “The same laws that apply to rural areas should not apply to urban areas with millions of people and thousands of police. As we work to keep gun crime at a historic low in New York City, we will not tolerate subways packed with pistols or shootouts in Times Square. We have gathered law enforcement officials… to say that we will oppose any federal action that lets visitors bring guns to our streets.”
Some gun rights protection groups in the state disagree with the officials. Vincent Cristiano heads the 300-strong New York State Concealed Carry Advocacy Facebook Group, where for over a year he’s fostered discussions and shared material on gun rights in New York.
To him, the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act isn’t about allowing for greater gun violence, but about recognizing the good guys who carry guns, a group he believes has long been excluded from the conversation.
“People aren’t coming to New York to rob a convenience store or kill someone,” he said. “They’re not looking for trouble, but the media convolutes the issue to instill fear.”
Cristiano believes gun owners carry concealed weapons for self-defense. It’s why he’s registered to carry a concealed gun in his home of Suffolk County, and why he’d like his daughter in Florida to register for the same. Christiano, a 56-year-old technical consultant, says there should be greater emphasis on the mental health of gun owners and rigorous training for potential gun owners should also be provided if needed. More than anything, though, he thinks the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act could actually bring safety to the streets of New York.
“There’s always gonna be violence,” he said. “But with more people randomly armed, criminals will be leery and less apt to commit crimes since someone in the crowd could have a gun.”
That kind of argument doesn’t impress Mark D. Jones, project director at The National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence, who believes the act would be disastrous for public safety. “Guns in the hands of people don’t make them safer,” he said. “It puts them at greater risk.”
He doesn’t think more armed citizens will do much to deter public crime. “Trained police officers don’t even hit their target much of the time. How will a citizen hit the target in Times Square, or in a crowded subway?” added Jones, a former supervisory agent at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
A 2009 study cited by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence supports Jones’ argument. It suggests that carrying a firearm may increase a victim’s risk of firearm injury during the commission of a crime.
“States with the strictest regulations will be subject to the weakest laws in the country,” Jones said. It would also generate a huge pressure on law enforcement, he said, citing a portion of the bill that attaches civil liability to law enforcement officers for questioning a non-resident with a concealed carry permit. “It’s the NRA’s wet dream.”
Jones believes the proposed bill is a bid by the NRA to create new market opportunities for firearm sales since stock prices of gun companies has dropped since President Trump’s election. President Trump’s promises to safeguard gun rights removed the sense of urgency many gun owners felt to buy firearms under the Obama administration, resulting in a general decline in sales, according to The Washington Post.
It’s the first time the NRA has pushed for federal laws regarding firearms, and for now Jones and others are playing the waiting game. It’s a critical time for gun rights- across the nation, several high-profile landmark cases are exploring the legality of concealed carry weapons. One such case is Peruta vs. San Diego, a California lawsuit that challenges restrictions on residents carrying concealed weapons outside of their homes.
The case evaluates whether the Second Amendment protects citizens’ right to carry a concealed weapon in public. California, in particular, requires approval from the sheriff’s department for each resident applying for a permit, provided they have “good cause” for such an application. Edward Peruta, a Vietnam veteran, found his application denied for that very reason, hence the lawsuit.
It will be argued before the Supreme Court in the coming weeks, where newly appointed justice Neil Gorsuch has just wrapped up his first week on the Bench. Gorsuch, appointed by President Trump to replace Justice Antonin Scalia after Scalia’s death in 2016, will help set the precedent for several landmark cases, Peruta vs. San Diego among them.
It’s cases like this one that could be rendered victim to a national standard for concealed carry, regardless of extenuating circumstances. That’s the power the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act holds.
The bill has yet to pass the House or Senate, but Jones considers it a more measured approach than the last few concealed carry bills introduced in past years. At the end of the day, though, he believes there’s no one solution for all 50 states.
“Gun laws in dense, urban populations are very different from the open lands in Wyoming or Missouri,” Johns said. “It’s really up to the rational, reasonable people in New York who are in the position to decide what’s best.”