Throughout my tenure as congressman for Pennsylvania's Sixth District, a priority of mine has been safeguarding and enhancing the safety and strength of our communities.
Last December, a bill came to the House floor that would have forced each state to accept the concealed-carry handgun standards of every other state. Under the proposed policy, when an individual crossed into any state with a concealed carry handgun from a different state, the individual would only need to be in compliance with the standards of the state where they reside — even if the standards of that state were significantly weaker or nonexistent than the state they were visiting. I opposed this policy — known as concealed carry reciprocity — because I was concerned about forcing Pennsylvanians to accept any weaker concealed carry standards that other states may have approved, including those with poorly administered and ineffective permitting systems.
Under Pennsylvania law, law enforcement officials can screen concealed carry permit applicants for red flags, such as a history of domestic disturbances or violent behavior. But many states do not give law enforcement that authority, including the 12 states that allow individuals to carry hidden, loaded handguns without a permit or license. Pennsylvanians should be comfortable knowing that they can set their own standards for carrying concealed, loaded handguns in public.
As the policy awaits a vote in the U.S. Senate, new evidence has emerged showing another reason for my colleagues in the Senate to oppose concealed carry reciprocity.
For more than a year, the state of Florida failed to review FBI background checks — an "essential duty" of permit-issuing authorities — on applicants for permits to carry concealed, loaded handguns in public. A recent report from the Florida inspector general concluded that the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services was negligent in failing to review background checks on applicants for Florida concealed carry permits. The integrity of the entire system was undermined by the failure of a single person who was unable to log into a database. As a result, nearly 300 ineligible individuals received Florida concealed carry permits.
This grave error was not the first time the state failed to properly administer its program. In 2007, it was uncovered that Florida issued 1,400 permits to offenders who pleaded guilty or no contest to felonies, such as burglary, sexual battery, and child molestation. The state also issued permits to more than 200 people with outstanding warrants, and more than 100 people subject to domestic violence restraining orders. Under the concealed carry reciprocity legislation that I voted against, states across the country, including Pennsylvania, would have to rely on concealed carry permits from Florida and other states with flawed systems.
Florida's issuance of concealed carry permits to individuals with violent histories has already had deadly consequences in our state. In 2010, a man with a history of violence and whose Pennsylvania concealed carry permit had already been revoked was legally carrying a handgun in Philadelphia with a Florida permit – resulting in a fatality.
These types of tragedies remind us of the importance of our background check systems. And if we can't trust all states to responsibly administer their concealed carry permit system, then we should not force all states to accept all other permits. But that's how concealed carry reciprocity works: It would not create a national standard for who can carry a concealed handgun in public; instead, it simply would force each state to accept the standards, whether weaker or stronger, of all other states.
This is an unacceptable standard. It's why I voted against concealed carry reciprocity and why I hope my colleagues in the Senate will do the same.