If a man from Utah wanted to drive from Salt Lake City to Virginia Beach with a pistol strapped under his coat and a concealed carry permit from his state in his wallet, he could legally do so—just as long as he takes a 200-mile detour to avoid passing through Illinois, where his Utah concealed gun license won’t be recognized.
A concealed carrier from Miami, meanwhile, could drive straight up I-95 without any problems until he got to Maryland, which doesn’t accept any out-of-state concealed carry licenses whatsoever.
Replacing this patchwork quilt of what are called “reciprocity” agreements with a federal right-to-carry standard is a top political objective of the National Rifle Association, which spent more than $30 million to elect Donald Trump. The incoming president promised to deliver that change during his campaign, and the NRA has been quick to remind him of his commitment.
The gun group’s top executive, Wayne LaPierre, used his first post-election communication with members to repeat his demand for a law that requires states to accept a permit issued by any other state, declaring “the individual right to carry a firearm in defense of our lives and our families does not, and should not, end at any state line.”
For many gun owners, the concerns are logistical: Embarking on a road trip with a gun means researching state laws and the possibility of long detours. Carrying a concealed weapon with an invalid permit is a felony offense in many states. Advocates invariably compare concealed carry licenses to drivers licenses: Why is the right to self-defense so limited if Americans can drive across the country with just one license?
But opponents say a federal mandate would force states that exclude people they deem high risk to accept licenses issued in states with looser standards. Existing training requirements for concealed gun permits vary greatly: from quick and cheap online courses, to 16 hours of in-person training with supervised live fire. As the Trace has reported, 26 states will issue a permit without requiring an applicant to demonstrate shooting ability.
Lindsay Nichols, a staff attorney with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, argues that the fact that state standards vary so widely gives lie to gun rights proponents drivers’ license analogy. She points out that states recognize one another’s drivers licenses because “states have almost uniformly adopted strong standards with regards to driving. They require drivers tests in a uniform manner in a way that doesn’t apply to guns.”
Many states also allow people who live elsewhere to apply for their license—and easy-to-obtain licenses draw applicants nationwide. Utah’s requirements, for instance, are seen as among the laxest in the nation. And two-thirds of all people with a Utah-issued permit now live out of state.
In short: Under national concealed carry reciprocity, states that impose high bars through their own permitting systems could be undermined by the loose standards in place elsewhere.
“I would have a grave concern about the public safety effects,” says Douglas Gansler, a former Maryland attorney general who in 2012 joined nine other state attorneys general to condemn an earlier federal reciprocity bill. “The people of Maryland don’t want lots of people walking around the state while armed.”