Congress recently turned down a chance to require all states to honor concealed-carry permits from other states -- effectively overriding all local gun laws. The defeat turned back, at least for the moment, a chance for the states with the weakest gun laws to make a killing by bringing more gun buyers and potential permit holders to their states. Those states that are popular with the $3 billion-plus gun industry now, like Florida and Virginia, have a chance to become real winners if the rule ever goes through.

A whisper campaign already makes Southern states extremely popular with gun dealers: most handguns used in crime in Northern cities were purchased down South.
People who travel with concealed-carry permits say that it's hard to keep track of which states will accept their permits. This chart from ConcealedCarry.net shows what a mess the system is: states with tougher "may issue" requirements don't want to take the easy "shall issue" permits from other states.

While the NRA says that anyone who gets a concealed carry permit is an upstanding citizen, that really only applies in states where there's a requirement for applicants to take a class and undergo a real background check. In the last two years, permit-holders have killed 57 people (including seven cops). If every state had rigorous permit standards -- plus required liability insurance for any damage by the permit holder's gun -- I wouldn't see a problem in state reciprocity.

Opponents say that inevitably, the lowest standards would reign: that what's good for Alabama isn't necessarily good for the Bronx, but New Yorkers wouldn't have any choice. We'd inevitably see a race to the bottom for standards. We've already seen that in corporate law (Delaware), personal bankruptcy (Florida), and divorce (Nevada).

The laws are not--at least officially -- as wanton as city dwellers may fear. Take Texas: You must be a resident for six months. Some misdemeanors, like drunk driving, and mental-health issues are supposed to disqualify an applicant, and businesses can declare themselves a gun-free zone, as long as they follow some pretty picayune typography standards.

And when states leave the permitting to counties, then the standards get really shaggy. One gun owner recently documented which state would be the easiest for getting a permit: Roanoke Times columnist Dan Casey wrote about how easy it was to pass Virginia's "educational" requirement. Even though he's never handled a handgun, he now can conceal one on his person, thanks to an easy online test found on craigslist.

For gun enthusiasts, that's not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, some gun enthusiasts brag about how cheap their state is, or how many states their permit will work in.

The non-resident permits are the most worrisome part. Could a Chicagoan pick up a license in Virginia and start carrying -- even though his local bar owner wouldn't think to put up a no guns sign? Would a criminal bother? Maybe. I wrote a book about the Long Island Railroad shooting, when a clearly deranged man, Colin Ferguson, moved to California and lived in a hotel just long enough to buy weapons there. In another famous New York City case, Bernard Goetz shot up a subway car, and was found not guilty of all charges but the weapons charge.

And not every state requires that you're a resident. In fact, according to Handgunlaw.us, nine states (Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Nevada, North Dakota, Utah and Virginia) will issue to residents and non-residents alike. Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas and Washington put other requirements on that -- typically, that you have a license in your home state.

I think the states that are glad-handed with their non-resident permits are the ones that would be in competition to have the easiest requirements. (You would think that having low standards would hurt their acceptance in other states, but the opposite seems to be true: Florida, the original "shall issue" state, is widely accepted. Massachusetts and Maryland are not.)

Of course, state marketers would have to balance the price and requirements of the license to get the most bang for their buck. If they required shooters to travel to their state, they could rake in tourism dollars. But they'd get more permit-holders if they allowed the mail-order application.

Here's how it would play out if it becomes just a matter of price:
  • Utah gives you a widely accepted license for five years for the low, low price of $65.
  • Iowa charges $10 a year.
  • Maine is $60 for four years. Arizona is the same price, but they throw in a bonus year.
  • North Dakota has a deal with three years of packing for $25.
  • Florida has a kind of name-brand appeal, but it's $117 for seven years. (What do they make the licenses out of? Gold?)
  • Nevada is pricing itself out the market with a three-year $105 permit for non-residents.
  • Virginia, called a "Gold Star" state by concealedcarry.net, gives you five years of handgun carrying for just $50!
  • Indiana may have the best steal of all: a lifetime of hiding your weapon for just $125.
These states should get their marketing campaigns ready.

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