Firearms backers to ‘go on offense’ during Trump years
December 4, 2016
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Firearms enthusiasts who embraced Donald Trump's campaign and his full-throated support of the Second Amendment are expecting a sweeping expansion of gun rights under his administration and a Congress firmly in Republican hands.
Among their priorities: eliminating gun-free zones at schools, reducing requirements for background checks and ensuring that concealed carry handgun permits from one state are recognized everywhere in the U.S.
"This is our historic moment to go on offense and to defeat the forces that have aligned against our freedom once and for all," Wayne LaPierre, chief executive of the National Rifle Association, said in a video after the Nov. 8 election. "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."
In pursuing their agenda, the gun lobby and its GOP supporters could find themselves at odds with two other tenets of Republican orthodoxy: states' rights and local control.
"It would be ironic to see conservatives who long have professed a belief in states' rights override states' choices in this area," said Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California Irvine School of Law.
One of the NRA's paramount goals is getting Congress to pass a law requiring all states to recognize concealed-carry handgun permits issued by any other state. Currently, many permit holders must leave their weapons at home when traveling or risk violating other states' laws. NRA supporters say permits should be treated like driver's licenses.
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Trump endorsed the idea during the campaign, but it is likely to face intense opposition from Democrats in states with tight gun restrictions, including California and the president-elect's home state of New York.
States make their own judgments on who should be allowed to have a concealed-carry permit, and their eligibility requirements vary based on an applicant's criminal history, age and training.
Many law enforcement organizations warn the change would mean encountering more guns during traffic stops and in tourist areas. They also say there is no way to easily check the validity of an out-of-state firearm permit because there is no nationwide database.
The trend among states to expand the right to carry guns is already "creating enormous challenges on the streets for police officers who must figure out whether or not the people they encounter are legally entitled to have a firearm," said Darrel Stephens, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association.
Chemerinsky and another expert who studies gun law, UCLA professor Eugene Volokh, said Congress probably doesn't have the constitutional authority to order states to recognize concealed-carry permits from elsewhere. But they said Congress could encourage states to do so by threatening to withhold law enforcement and homeland security funding.
The NRA, which spent more than $30 million supporting Trump and opposing Hillary Clinton, also is calling for an end to gun-free zones around the country, including at schools. The organization has argued that such areas become targets for mass killers.
Trump pledged during the campaign to eliminate gun-free zones. To do that, Congress would have to repeal the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1996, which limits carrying and bans the discharge of guns within 1,000 feet of schools.
Even then, Lindsay Nichols, senior attorney with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence in San Francisco, said she believes states and municipalities would be able to create gun-free areas locally.
Nichols said that any push to repeal the federal law would draw opposition from gun control advocates, who are better organized than they have been in years and made gains of their own at the ballot box last month. Voters in California, Nevada and Washington state tightened firearm laws, with California enacting the nation's first background check requirement for buying ammunition.
Even without Congress, Trump can immediately undo President Barack Obama's executive actions on guns. Among other things, Obama put sellers on notice last year that they have to conduct background checks even when doing business at gun shows or through the internet — and that failing to do so routinely would be a crime.
Another Obama rule that Trump could jettison would make it easier for some health care providers to share information about mental illness with the federal background check system. Critics worry that sharing such details could unfairly deny gun rights to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress.
Larry Pratt, a former executive director of Gun Owners of America, said he is eager to see Trump overturn Obama's executive actions.
"Baby, those are going into the shredder," he said.