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On Nov. 16, the U.S. House passed H.R.822, the National Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act. This legislation basically says that any state that issues concealed firearms permits must honor the permits issued by other states, much as states honor each other’s driver’s licenses.

While language in the bill includes citation of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution for authority, the stronger argument lies in the Constitution’s call for “full faith and credit” regarding contracts and legal issues across state lines.

The bill is now awaiting action in the Senate, where it is likely to be referred to a committee and, in all likelihood, be left to languish without a hearing or a vote until Congress adjourns.

This bill is an excellent example of something I discussed in a column a few weeks ago – the way politicians play political games with hot-button legislation. In this case the legislation was being pushed pretty hard by Republican leaders in the House looking to make points with gun voters and to put Democrats in a bind. But the whole thing was probably just so much kabuki theatre – an elaborately staged drama to arrive at a predetermined outcome.

There is little chance of the bill making it through the Democrat-controlled Senate and of getting past the president’s veto pen. For most House members the vote was an easy call. It was supported by the Republican leadership and was almost certainly going to pass, so the only question was how their vote would play for the folks back home. Most members are smart enough to realize that gun voters vote in large numbers based on politicians’ actions, while the anti-rights crowd simply doesn’t have any kind of strong voter base.

Only a handful of Republicans chose to swim against the party tide, and they are going to lose a lot of votes because of it. On the other hand many Republicans and a fair number of Democrats who might have had trouble attracting gun voters next year will now be able to point to this vote as proof that they support gun owner rights – even if they really don’t.

Most of those who voted right on this bill can expect an “A” rating and an endorsement from the National Rifle Association even if the bill dies in the Senate.

Over in the Democrat-controlled Senate, things are a little less pressing. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was just reelected last year to another 6-year term. He had tossed gun voters and the NRA a couple of bones as the election approached and thereby avoided full-on opposition from the NRA, who actually provided some quiet support to Reid as he faced Sharon Angle.

Angle was and is a solidly pro-rights, tea-party candidate who bucked the Republican establishment in the primary. With 4 more years before he faces voters again, Reid has little personal concern about alienating gun voters right now, but he does have concerns about protecting his man in the White House
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There has been much speculation within the firearms community about whether this Reciprocity Act will be voted out of the Senate, whether President Obama will sign or veto it and what the long-term impacts of the act might be if it is passed. There is a slight possibility that Obama would choose to sign the bill in order to blunt expected heated opposition from gun voters in 2012. While unlikely, it is not beyond the realm of possibility. It would be almost impossible for the legislation to make it out of the Senate without Obama’s blessing, though, so if it does get to his desk, I think it is likely that he will sign it. In such a scenario I would expect that language matching the House-passed act would be attached as an amendment to some must-pass legislation as a way of allowing Obama to sign it without blatantly snubbing anti-rights groups.

Two years ago a similar bill was offered as an amendment in the Senate and failed to overcome a Chuck Schumer filibuster by just two votes. In that instance Reid played his cards masterfully. He had several fence-sitter Democrats from states that lean pro-rights who he held back until most of the Senate had voted. Once it was clear that supporters of the measure weren’t going to get the required 60 votes, Reid gave these senators permission to vote with the minority. He only needed a one-vote margin, but since two Republicans (Voinovitch of Ohio and Lugar of Indiana) had voted with the Democrats, Reid played his hole cards so that the final vote was two votes short. That put all of the focus on the two defector Republicans rather than on Reid or members of his majority. The tactic worked. Voinovitch decided not to seek reelection, and Lugar is now facing a serious primary challenge leading up to the 2012 elections.

If this bill becomes law, I would expect states with limited concealed carry systems to move to dramatically tighten restrictions on when and where permits can be exercised, while states with liberal carry provisions will push to further loosen restrictions. Passage, or even the threat of passage, makes adoption of a concealed carry system in Illinois – the only state that has no concealed carry option – even more difficult to achieve. Convincing state legislators to trust their own citizens with guns is difficult enough. This bill tells them that any concealed carry law they pass automatically opens their state to carry by anyone licensed in any other state. That’s a pretty big leap of faith.

For now, the ball is in Harry Reid’s court, and everything else is just guessing. Readers interested in supporting passage of this legislation, which is not perfect, but is absolutely a step in the right direction, should contact their senators and Harry Reid, encouraging a vote on the measure as soon as possible. If you do contact the Senate, don’t forget to express support for the Veterans’ Second Amendment Protection Act as well.

If you would like to see how your Representative voted on the Reciprocity Act, a tally sheet listing members of Congress and how they voted on H.R.822 has been posted at GunVoter.org.

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