Reps. Tom MacArthur (R-3), Frank LoBiondo (R-2) and Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11) on Wednesday were the only members of New Jersey’s 12-member congressional delegation to vote in favor of a House bill that would make it legal for those granted concealed carry permits in their home states to carry weapons in other states, even if the laws of those states are contradictory.
New Jersey has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the state and concealed carry permits are rarely or never granted to ordinary citizens. If the bill –known as the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act– becomes federal law, it will contradict existing state laws and would increase the number of legally carried guns in the state. Opponents of the bill say that concealed carry reciprocity makes states like New Jersey less safe. But advocates for changing the law say that it eliminates criminal penalties for law-abiding citizens who travel out of state and are unaware that concealed carry permits do not transfer across state lines.
MacArthur said that the legislation will prevent wrongful convictions of people like Shaneen Allen, a Pennsylvania nurse who in 2013 was arrested in New Jersey for carrying her weapon, something that she did not think violated any laws since she had a permit issued from her state. Though she initially faced a prison term, Allen was required to participate in a pretrial intervention program and was later pardoned by Gov. Chris Christie.
“This legislation will ensure that what happened to Shaneen does not happen to any other law-abiding gun owners by requiring states to recognize each other’s gun carry permits, while recognizing states’ rights to create their own firearms laws,” MacArthur said in a statement. “Opponents of this bill will argue that this legislation will enable dangerous people to obtain firearms. This is completely false. This bill, will allow a law-abiding citizen to carry concealed gun only if they are not federally prohibited from possessing or receiving a firearm.”
The bill was also paired with an initiative to better report legal and mental health records to the background check system, an effort to win over Democrats. However, the legislation only drew the support of six Democrats nationally, none of them from New Jersey. Two New Jersey Republican House members –Reps. Leonard Lance (R-7) and Chris Smith (R-4)– voted no on the legislation, the first gun-related bill to be put up for a House vote since the deadly October mass shooting in Las Vegas. They were among 14 national Republicans to vote no on the bill. The bill is a top priority of the National Rifle Association.
“The first concrete action this body has taken in response the numerous gun tragedies our nation has experienced is to make it easier for people to carry hidden, loaded guns in our communities,” said Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-12), a New Jersey Democrat who has strongly opposed efforts to loosen gun restrictions. “The irony is not lost on me; this bill epitomizes federal overreach and undermines states’ rights to regulate firearms – especially in states like New Jersey who have made tremendous progress to limit the proliferation of guns,” she said.
Many New Jersey districts are a top priority for national Democrats looking to shift control of the House during the 2018 midterm elections. Mikie Sherrill, the most successful fundraiser currently facing Frelinghuysen, quickly issued a statement opposing his vote on the bill. Sherill is a Navy veteran and former federal prosecutor.
“Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen just voted in favor of a bill that puts the people of New Jersey at risk of more violence in their communities,” Sherrill said. “The Congressman voted to make the job of our law enforcement agencies more difficult and to allow untrained and potentially dangerous individuals to carry concealed weapons in New Jersey. It is shameful that in a year with two of the worst mass shootings on record, the only response from Congress is eroding sensible gun laws.”
Ahead of the vote, former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords’s pro-gun control organization held a press conference in Morristown calling on Frelinghuysen to vote no on the bill. Giffords was the victim of a shooting in 2011. The group –Giffords– also ran tv ads this week informing voters that the bill would allow “nearly anyone with hidden, loaded guns would be allowed into communities.”
The bill still needs to go to the Senate for a vote before it can become law.