House GOP links concealed-carry to gun background check measure

Washington — The U.S. House is expected to vote, and likely approve, legislation this week that would undermine Connecticut’s restrictions on carrying concealed firearms.

The bill is promoted by the National Rifle Association and is called the “Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act.” It would allow those with permits in one state to carry their firearm into another state.

That means that a visitor to Connecticut from Vermont, where those carrying a concealed weapon do not need a permit and can be as young as 16 (or even younger, if they have parental permission), would be able to carry a gun in Connecticut, which requires a permit and prohibits those younger than 21 from carrying a gun.

To the dismay of gun control advocates, the House Rules Committee on Tuesday married that legislation with another bill that would strengthen the FBI background check process.

The “Fix NICs” bill, co-sponsored by several Connecticut lawmakers, would increase the frequency with which state and federal agencies report offenses that legally would prohibit someone from buying a firearm. It also would prod federal agencies, including the military services, to improve their reporting of those who would be banned from owing a gun.

Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, a sponsor of the House Fix NICs bill, said it is “appalling” that the GOP-led Rules Committee linked the two bills and “polluted the NICs bill.”

“This makes it impossible for me to vote for my own bill,” Esty said.

In Connecticut, gun owners are allowed to carry their weapons in public, concealed or not, if they have a permit issued by the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, or DESPP.

Before obtaining a permit, prospective gun owners must undergo a background check that bars felons and others, including “stalkers” and those prohibited from owning a firearm for having been adjudicated as mentally incompetent under federal law.

And applicants for a gun permit or eligibility certificate must pass a DESPP-approved course on handgun safety and use.

But, like Vermont, many states, including Maine and New Hampshire, have much less stringent rules. Under the concealed carry bill, a Connecticut resident could obtain a weapon in one of those states and carry it back home, circumventing the Connecticut permitting requirements.

“It would effectively eviscerate Connecticut’s strong requirements,” Esty said of the bill.

U.S. Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, agreed with his colleague that the reciprocity bill would “circumvent” Connecticut’s stronger law.

The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which is expected to be approved in the GOP-led House on Thursday, would be the first major piece of legislation gun rights advocates have advanced since the massacre of 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School nearly five years ago.

The bill was expected to be voted on in the House in early October. But consideration of this bill, and another one backed by the NRA that would remove restrictions on the purchase of gun silencers, were put on hold after Stephen Paddock slaughtered 58 people and injured more than 500 on the Las Vegas Strip on the night of Oct. 1 in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Approval of the bill in the Senate is less likely but the last 30 years have seen a continual expansion of the right to carry concealed handguns for self-defense within the United States, even as the nationwide violent crime rate has plummeted during the same period. That’s largely because of the push of gun rights groups like the NRA.

“America’s highest-ranking law enforcement officers understand that law-abiding citizens should be able to exercise their fundamental right to self-defense while traveling across state lines without fear of unknowingly breaking the law,” said Chris W. Cox, executive director, NRA Institute for Legislative Action.

Law enforcement officials in many states — including those with strong support for gun ownership — have opposed the move to make carrying them easier, but Cox said the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act would “eliminate the confusing patchwork of state laws that make it difficult for law-abiding gun owners to travel across the country with their firearms for personal protection.”

Gun control advocates, including several of Connecticut’s Democratic lawmakers, say the, legislation “would allow more dangerous criminals and untrained individuals to carry loaded, hidden guns in public places by forcing states with strong concealed carry laws to honor permits from states with weak or non-existent standards.”

Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, and Esty, who represents Newtown in Congress, have planned an event on Wednesday on the grounds of the U.S. House to protest the chamber’s vote on the gun legislation.

They will be joined by other Democratic lawmakers and family members of those murdered by gunshot, including Jane Dougherty, sister of Mary Sherlach, a school psychologist killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and Gilles and Joyce Rousseau, parents of Lauren Rousseau, another teacher killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Ana Radelat is a reporter for The Connecticut Mirror (www.ctmirror.org). Copyright 2017 © The Connecticut Mirror.

aradelat@ctmirror.org

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