This feature appears in the June ‘17 issue of NRA America’s 1st Freedom, one of the official journals of the National Rifle Association.
While much of the nation’s attention has been fixated on the latest media-manufactured melodrama in Washington, D.C., the NRA has been hard at work in state capitals across the country to improve state gun laws that impact the everyday lives of gun owners. Even though we were barely a quarter of the way through 2017 at press time, the NRA has already piled up an impressive list of state-level victories in the New Year.
Recognizing The Right To Carry Without A Permit
In the first three months of 2017, two new states have adopted permitless Right-to-Carry laws.
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu signed Senate Bill 12 (SB 12) on Feb. 22, making the Granite State the 11th state to allow those who can lawfully possess firearms to carry a concealed firearm without first obtaining a Right-to-Carry permit. The legislation also strengthened New Hampshire’s existing Right-to-Carry permits by making Pistol/Revolver Licenses valid for five years, up from four, which was the previous term for a permit.
New Hampshire’s journey to permitless carry was a challenging one. In 2015 and 2016, then-Gov. Maggie Hassan, now a U.S. senator, vetoed legislation that would have recognized the Right to Carry without a permit, and attempts to override her veto were unsuccessful. Moreover, earlier efforts at permitless carry were at times complicated by discord among some segments of the state’s enthusiastic gun rights community.
With SB 12, New Hampshire has brought recognition of the Right to Carry in line with its northern New England neighbors, Vermont and Maine. [Vermont has never prohibited the right to carry without a permit, while Maine joined the growing number of permitless carry states on July 8, 2015, when Gov. Paul LePage signed Legislative Document 652 (LD 652) into law.] The Granite State is now truly living up to its “Live Free or Die” creed when it comes to Right to Carry.
Just more than a month after New Hampshire became a permitless carry state, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum signed House Bill 1169, making that state the 12th to adopt permitless carry. Prior to receiving Burgum’s signature, the Legislature enthusiastically endorsed the measure, with a House vote of 83-9 on Feb. 22, followed by a 34-13 vote in the Senate on March 21.
The NRA and our friends in the state legislatures have made progress in other states as well, although more work remains to be done.
Permitless carry legislation came very close to being enacted, but unfortunately was vetoed by governors in two states that border North Dakota. On Feb. 22, the South Dakota House of Representatives passed House Bill 1072 37-30. The Senate followed on March 5, voting 23-11 for permitless carry. Unfortunately, on March 17, Gov. Dennis Daugaard vetoed the bill. In his veto message, he wrongly attempted to use the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller to justify his actions. On March 27, pro-gun representatives attempted to override Daugaard’s veto, but the effort came up just short.
In the last three years, the NRA has helped to add eight states to the ranks of those that recognize the right to carry without first obtaining government permission.A similar scenario played out in Montana with HB 262. The legislation overwhelmingly passed the House by a 60-39 vote on Jan. 31, and the Senate by a vote of 31-18 on Feb. 15. However, Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed the bill on Feb. 23.
Despite these setbacks, the support of South Dakota and Montana residents for permitless carry was made clear by the actions of their state legislatures. The NRA will continue to work in these states to pass this important legislation in future sessions.
In addition to the support of these state legislatures, efforts at permitless carry are gaining traction throughout the country. Bills have recently been introduced in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nebraska, Tennessee and Texas. As of press time, a permitless carry bill is moving through the South Carolina Legislature, having passed the House by a vote of 64-46.
Wisconsin’s experience shows just how much momentum permitless carry has generated. Wisconsin was a relatively late adopter of permitted Right to Carry as Gov. Scott Walker signed shall-issue concealed carry legislation in 2011. This year, after the introduction of permitless carry legislation in the Badger State, Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel said of the legislation, “Constitutional carry is certainly a reasonable legislative policy to consider.” He also noted, “I have said many times we have nothing to fear from law-abiding gun owners, and our experience as a state since passage of our concealed-carry law has proven that point.”
In the last three years, the NRA has helped to add eight states to the ranks of those that recognize the Right to Carry without first obtaining government permission. Going forward, the NRA will work to build on this momentum to ensure a growing number of gun owners are able to exercise this important right.
Eliminating Gun-Free Zones
The NRA has also been at the forefront of working to ensure Right-to-Carry permit holders are able to exercise their right to self-defense in more places. The most notable recent advance in this effort occurred on March 22, when Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed HB 1249, legislation creating an enhanced permitting system under which permit holders are able to carry in a number of previously gun-free zones.
Under the new law, those who complete eight hours of firearms training are eligible for an enhanced permit. This permit allows the holder to carry at public universities and colleges, most government buildings, churches and a host of other locations.
Keeping Private Firearms Transfers Private
With a background check initiative defeat in Maine, followed by an attorney general opinion that determined the Nevada background check initiative was unenforceable, 2016 was a tough year for Michael Bloomberg and his ongoing war on gun owners. To end the losing streak, Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety group set its sights on New Mexico with a private transfer ban early in the 2017 session.
The NRA and our friends in the state legislatures have made progress in other states as well, although more work remains to be done.Everytown’s team of hired lobbyists worked with state lawmakers to introduce SB 48 and HB 50, which would have required nearly all firearm transfers to take place through a firearms dealer and pursuant to a background check and government paperwork.
To combat Bloomberg’s efforts, the NRA’s state liaison for New Mexico worked tirelessly on the ground in Santa Fe and we mobilized our membership to contact their legislators. Moreover, gun rights supporters secured the support of New Mexico Sheriffs’ Association, which came out in opposition to the Bloomberg-backed restrictions.
Reports on the ground indicated that some New Mexico politicians were willing to support a pared-down version of the background check legislation, outlawing the private transfer of firearms at gun shows and those advertised online. However, Bloomberg’s group was adamant that any transfer ban go well beyond these limitations to include private firearm transfers in nearly all circumstances.
In the end, Everytown’s no-compromise position was unacceptable to many lawmakers and played to gun owners’ advantage. In the waning days of the legislative session, Everytown’s allies introduced another bill, HB 548, which targeted transfers at gun shows and online, but at that point, law-abiding gun owners throughout the state had made their opposition to the transfer ban known in Santa Fe. The grassroots pressure brought to bear by NRA members and our supporters was too much for Everytown to overcome.
The 2017 legislative session ended without the passage of any of the Bloomberg-backed legislation. The NRA’s victory over Bloomberg in New Mexico was not only a victory for the Land of Enchantment’s gun owners, it sent another message to the out-of-touch billionaire that Americans’ gun rights aren’t for sale.
These varied efforts only begin to scratch the surface of NRA’s important work in the statehouses in 2017. Further, with important legislation on the move in numerous states, NRA members can expect to see more good news before the year is out. While others are busy lamenting congressional gridlock in Washington, D.C., the NRA will continue to be on the front lines in state capitals across the country working to secure more victories for America’s gun owners.