Reciprocity and Reciprocal Carry, Part 1 in a 9 Part Series
A Basic Understanding of the Legal Concept of Reciprocity
A common discussion topic among gun owners, gun show patrons and exhibitors and those in the gun community at large, is reciprocity: carrying a handgun in a foreign (different) state by an out-of-state license to carry. As an attorney handling legal matters within the gun industry, I am frequently asked questions on this topic.
A thread that runs between each formulation of every question reflects misunderstanding of what reciprocity is and how it is legally effectuated and allowed. In simple terms, reciprocity is the recognition and exchange of legal rights – the right to carry a handgun with a license – by and between states.
Some of this confusion stems from the bewildering number of local, state, and federal laws that exist that run into the tens of thousands covering firearms; this exacerbated by the complexity by which laws are maintained (where you can find the laws to follow them). Getting any legal question answered sometimes take hours of research, even for the most skilled and informed lawyer.
The purpose of this blog post is to simplify the process and allow you the reader to understand reciprocity and sharpen your discussions on the topic, to ultimately help do your part to stay compliant with the law; and if you choose, become a more articulate and a catalyst for change (advocating for more uniformity among firearms laws and reciprocity by being active in the legislative process).
Under the division of power between state and federal government, the United States Constitution guarantees state sovereignty. There are a couple of important constitutional effective exceptions: the Commerce and the Supremacy Clauses.
Under the Commerce Clause, the federal government, in the name of interstate commerce, may preempt a legal field and effectively tell states they may not regulate in any particular area. When the Congress has done this, states have often resisted (sued or declined to follow the law), thinking they better know how to regulate their affairs.
In addition, under the Supremacy Clause, if both state and federal government laws regulate a specific matter in conflicting ways, the federal government’s provision controls – federal law is supreme under the Supremacy Clause. This is not to say both state and federal government cannot regulate on the same firearm issue (i.e., school zones). In this example, all of the state and federal provisions apply and must be followed with regard to guns in “school zones.”(i)
With the broad swath of laws that are known to you, the Reader, covering firearms, it is probably obvious the Congress and states both regulate firearms. The Congress has made a specific policy statement, and enacted it into law, that it is not preempting the field(i). This is where reciprocity orients into the discussion.
There is no federal license to carry a handgun, but Congress has not prohibited states from entering into their own agreements to allow this. In fact, many states have made agreements to recognize some or all other state licenses to carry a handgun.
Typically, this occurs by the state legislature authorizing an administrative agency, such as the attorney general, to enter into an agreement (sometimes referred to as a Compact) with the other states Attorneys General to recognize each others licenses. However, the legislative body or its administrative agency may set up criteria to determine whether to recognize any other states license.
In the State of Indiana, the General Assembly’s statute reflects one of the broadest legislative grants of authority for recognizing other states’ license to carry a handgun. Specifically, the General Assembly allows carry of a handgun in Indiana by every resident of every other state who has a license to carry(i).
Other states take a similar position, which is, if you recognize our license to carry a handgun we issue to our residents, we will recognize yours. However, it may still take the attorney general, state police, or other agency to put this reciprocity into place by an agreement between states.
Where there are marked differences between the various states’ licensing schemes, the more restrictive states may, and sometimes do, decline to make a reciprocal agreement. One of the biggest reasons and distinctions lies between states that have qualification and training requirements in order to receive a license to carry a firearm.
Precisely, some states simply allow all those without certain criminal disqualifiers to obtain a license to carry a handgun upon payment of the requisite fees. Other states have a law and shooting requirement to make sure the potential licensee is proficient in both (such as Virginia), the law applicable to carrying a firearm and how to safely handle the handgun. The most rigid states have on-going training requirements.
If these differences are significant enough, a more rigid state (in terms of training in the law and a shooting component) may not recognize the less restrictive state’s license to allow carry of a handgun in their state.
The policy reason behind this is to provide the more restrictive states’ citizens with the same level of protection (i.e., less risk of accident) when they encounter non-residents who may be carrying a handgun. So these two hypothetical states would not be reciprocal. In addition, and again, there is no federal law allowing individual citizens to carry a handgun in another state–there is no federal license.
This blog post is written for GST (www.gunshowstoday.com) by Bryan L. Ciyou, attorney at law, Ciyou & Dixon, P.C., who practices in Indianapolis, Indiana. It is intended for general educational purposes. In Part 2, I will discuss why there is so much focus on handguns and what it means in legal terms.
Disclaimer/Warning: This Blog is not intended to provide legal advice nor a solicitation for legal representation. Specific questions relating to carrying a firearm should be directed to knowledgeable counsel in your state or the state of proposed carry.
(i) 18 U.S.C. § 922(q)(2)(A).
(ii) 18 U.S.C. § 927.
(iii) Ind.Code § 35-47-2-21(b).