In August 2009, a man with a permit to carry a concealed, loaded handgun in public opened fire at an LA Fitness Center in Collier, killing three women and wounding nine others. That same year, a white supremacist with a permit to carry a handgun killed three Pittsburgh police officers. Last July, near Philadelphia, concealed-carry-permit holder Tyrell Styles shot and killed his 5-year-old son and wounded the boy’s mother before killing himself.
In Pennsylvania and across the nation, the gun lobby is pushing to allow the carrying of concealed handguns in an increasing number of public places. And while the gun lobby and its supporters assert that those with concealed-carry permits are virtually all law-abiding citizens, they frequently are involved in fatal incidents that do not involve self-defense.
That’s why I was alarmed to learn about a proposal in Congress known as federally mandated concealed-carry legislation, versions of which have been introduced by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and several House counterparts. This legislation, a top priority for the National Rifle Association and the gun industry, would jeopardize public safety and raise the likelihood of additional tragedies.
If such a bill becomes law, each state would be required to recognize concealed-carry permits issued by any other state. This means that an individual would automatically be allowed to carry a handgun in Pennsylvania as long as he or she had obtained a concealed-carry permit elsewhere.
In many states, these permits are handed out to almost anyone as long as they are not a convicted felon and are 21 years of age or older. As a result, permits have been issued to domestic abusers, criminals, suicidal individuals and the severely mentally ill. Two states that are notorious for their lax standards are Florida and Utah. In fact, many individuals who do not live in these states obtain a permit from them simply because it is so easy to get one.
As a consequence, Pennsylvania has chosen to recognize Florida and Utah permits only if they are held by people who actually live in those states. A federally mandated concealed carry law would force Pennsylvania to abandon this policy and allow anyone with an out-of-state permit to carry a gun, no matter how low the state’s standards for issuing a permit.
Such a law would require Pennsylvania to recognize another state’s permit even if there is a strong possibility that the person holding it could go on to commit violent crimes. In fact, residents of states that don’t even require a permit to carry a concealed handgun would need only a government-issued ID to carry in Pennsylvania (and all other states)!
This federal legislation would undermine the judgment of Pennsylvania elected officials who have taken steps to protect public safety in our state. In effect, a federally mandated concealed-carry law would make the weakest state law the law of the land.
As a family physician, I view gun violence as a public health crisis that demands immediate action. Gun violence claims the lives of more than 33,000 Americans each year in suicides, homicides and unintentional shootings, including 1,451 lives in Pennsylvania in 2013. In the wake of the recent tragedies in Charleston, S.C., and Chattanooga, Tenn., our elected officials should not advance legislation that would make this crisis even worse.
We cannot ignore the fact that a significant portion of the most horrific gun tragedies can be attributed to those with permits to carry a firearm. The Violence Policy Center has identified 29 mass shootings involving concealed-carry-permit holders since 2007, resulting in the deaths of 139 innocent victims.
In Pennsylvania, this includes the massacre at the Collier LA Fitness Center and the deaths of the three officers in Pittsburgh. It also includes a 2012 incident in Franklin County, in which a concealed-carry-permit holder killed his estranged wife, her boyfriend and the boyfriend’s mother while their 4-year-old daughter looked on. The killer said he obtained his permit for “self-defense.”
It’s not only Pennsylvania’s doctors who have a responsibility to look out for the health and safety of our citizens. It’s also the responsibility of our state and national political leaders, who should adopt laws and policies that keep us safe from harm — not put us in harm’s way.
The federal government should not block the states from taking the steps they see fit to keep people safe. Pennsylvania Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey, as well as their House counterparts, should oppose federally mandated concealed-carry legislation, and each of us should do our part to help prevent gun violence in America.
Mudit Gilotra is a Copello Fellow for the National Physicians Alliance and works as a family physician at a community health center in Philadelphia.