Illustration by Bloomberg View
Illustration by Bloomberg View

Congress is moving ahead on legislation designed to increase the number of handguns on American streets and lower the standards imposed on those who wish to conceal and carry those weapons.

The National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity bill would require all states to allow out-of-state visitors to conceal and carry firearms as long as the visitors are permitted to do so in their home states. The relatively stringent conceal-and-carry laws of California, Illinois and New York, for example, would be rendered obsolete. So-called shall-issue states, where authorities have little discretion over permits (and thus “shall issue” them to anyone who meets the criteria), would become the new norm. The state with the most lax laws would establish a lowest common denominator for the nation.

The Police Foundation says the bill, if enacted, will endanger the lives of police officers, who would have no way of distinguishing legitimate out-of-state gun permits from fraudulent ones. The Major Cities Chiefs Association, another police group, calls the legislation “dangerous and unconstitutional.” Yet even those familiar with the state of gun politics in the U.S. might be surprised to learn that, despite such opposition, the bill is already co-sponsored by the majority of the House of Representatives. South Dakota Republican John Thune says he will introduce similar legislation in the Senate in coming weeks.

So the National Rifle Association appears poised for another victory. The gun lobby ingeniously marries the desires of a manufacturing sector to the diverse interests of hunters, sportsmen, gun enthusiasts and citizens fearful for their safety -- while criminals, including Mexican drug gangs, hitch a ride on the organization’s maximalist positions.

Because the gun lobby has succeeded in having government data on firearms restricted, and because the market in private sales at flea markets and gun shows is unregulated, the precise number of gun sales in the U.S. is unknown. But the decline in gun ownership -- down from more than half of households in the late 1970s to one-third of households today -- makes the business imperative clear: to maintain profits, the industry must sell more guns to fewer people.

Concealed-carry laws enable manufacturers to appeal to old customers with new wares, ranging from the Beretta PX4 (“well-suited for concealed carry,” according to the manufacturer’s website) to the Ruger SR40c (“another strong concealed carry option from Ruger”). Weighing only a pound and a half -- Colt’s Single Action Army Revolver, by contrast, weighs 40 ounces -- such “subcompact” guns are easily hidden and cost less than $600.

Do concealed-carry laws lead to increased gun violence? The Violence Policy Center counts 319 people killed by concealed-handgun permit-holders, although it’s hard to know what role, if any, the permits played in those killings. Crime is complex. But common sense needn’t be: More hidden guns increase the potential for violence, and that can’t be good.

Lawmakers representing gun-friendly regions have used states’-rights arguments to fend off health-care reform, federal education policy and more. For the sake of consistency, those same lawmakers should avoid imposing their concealed-carry mandate on states that don’t want it.

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