David Kopel: 2nd Amendment rights on the march in 2017
May 9, 2017
So far this year, 13 state legislatures have enacted laws to strengthen the right to keep and bear arms, and none have passed new gun control laws. In every year this century, pro-gun laws have outnumbered anti-gun laws, but this year's score is particularly lopsided.
A short-term reason is the Clinton-Obama strategy of marketing the Democratic Party as the party of gun control, which has devastated Democratic state legislative candidates.
A long-term explanation is the trend that began in the 1980s towards liberalizing gun-carrying laws. When doomsday predictions about right to carry do not come true, states that have liberalized their laws look at their own experience, and the experience of other states, and decide that further liberalization is in order.
New Hampshire and North Dakota are the 13th and 14th states to allow lawful adult gun owners to carry concealed without a permit. People can still obtain a permit if they wish, and in North Dakota, permittees may now carry in a church or other place of worship, if the place so allows.
In Idaho, permit-less carry is fully lawful in rural areas, but within city limits, only Idaho residents can carry without a permit. A new law allows non-resident active duty military members permit-less carry in towns.
An employee rights law in Arkansas states that businesses may not prohibit an employee with a concealed handgun license from possessing a handgun in the employee's own car. Arizona enacted a similar law for independent contractors who do business with the government.
Arkansas adopted a new two-tier system for carry licensing. Besides the basic permit, an Arkansan can earn an enhanced permit by taking additional training. Holders of an enhanced permit may carry in areas that are off-limits a person with only the basic permit. These include most government buildings (but not courts), churches (if the church so allows) and public colleges and universities.
Arkansas is the 10th state with a broad law protecting right to carry at public universities and colleges. Some other states have narrower protections, such as only by university employees, or only if the gun is kept inside a parked car.
Wyoming expanded its law for mentored hunting, so that a person under 14 can hunt while under supervision of a trained adult.
Utah is the eighth state to issue carry permit to young adults. Unlike the permit for persons 21 or older, the new provisional permit for 18- to 20-year-olds does not allow carrying on elementary or secondary school premises.
As with driver's licenses, states usually extend reciprocity for carry permits, so that a person who is licensed to carry by State A can carry when visiting State B, and vice versa. Georgia made some technical revisions to expand its reciprocity.
Washington will start sending renewal reminder notices to persons whose concealed pistol licenses are about to expire.
The single biggest firearms law reform this year is an Iowa omnibus bill. Among the reforms was a privacy provision found in many other states limiting the public release of personal information about firearm permit holders. For women gun owners who have escaped an abuser, address confidentiality is particularly important.
Iowa also adopted "Stand Your Ground," so that victims of violent attacks may defend themselves without being forced to retreat. This includes when the attacker has unlawfully entered a person's home or automobile. Criminals who are lawfully shot by crime victims are prohibited from suing the victims.
After Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana in 2005, some law enforcement agencies violated state law by confiscating firearms from the victims. Iowa now joins most other states in providing express protections against firearms confiscation during weather or other declared emergencies.
Because the United States literally has more firearms than people, teaching gun safety is especially important. Iowa repealed an eccentric law that had forbidden parents from teaching handgun safety to their children at shooting ranges. During the Iowa primary, Secretary Clinton had denounced this proposed reform.
In the east, Kentucky too enhanced safety education, by expanding the number of gun safety organizations authorized to train and certify instructors. Sensibly, Kentucky removed the requirement that students must clean their firearms in the classroom. This was hard for a large class to do while complying with one of the cardinal rules of gun safety: even if you are certain that a firearm is unloaded, always point it in a safe direction.
A new West Virginia law protects firing ranges, which are where most people practice. Once a firing range has been constructed in compliance with local noise ordinances, a municipality cannot later change the noise law to shut down the range. Likewise, if a person buys property near an established shooting range, the person may not bring a lawsuit claiming that the range is a public nuisance and must close.
Colorado ended its 1963 ban on switchblades and gravity knives. Because these knives can be opened with one hand, they are most needed by three types of Coloradans: ranchers rescuing an animal tangled in fencing wire; rock climbers tangled in a rope; and persons with disabilities who have lost the use of one hand or arm.
And finally, Indiana now allows firearms to be used as security for loans.
In much of the United States, gun laws are changing in only one direction. Notably, once a state enacts a basic law for right to carry — as all but a few already have — there is typically a one-way ratchet toward further carry liberalization.
David Kopel is research director at the Independence Institute. Joseph Greenlee is part of the Emerging Leaders Advisory Council at the Steamboat Institute.