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What's Wrong With Making It Easier to Carry a Gun Across State Lines?

Congress is expected to vote Tuesday on whether concealed carry gun licenses should be treated the same way we treat driver's licenses for cars. With 245 co-sponsors in the House, the only question is whether there are the 290 votes necessary to override President Obama's veto. 

For decades, treating licenses for guns like those for cars was something that gun control advocates wanted. 

In his 2000 presidential campaign, Al Gore promised: "We require a license to drive a car in this nation in order to keep unsafe drivers off the road. As president, I will fight for a national requirement that every state issue photo licenses [for handgun buyers]. We should require a license to own a handgun so people who shouldn't have them, can't get them." 

Handgun Control Inc., as well as its later incarnation as the Brady Campaign, has pushed licensing plan since the 1970s. But what would this actually mean for gun control? After all, what does a driver's license let you do? 

You don't need a driver's license to drive a car on private property, merely on public roads. And once you get a license, you are allowed to drive any car on any public road anywhere in the United States. You are responsible for obeying the different traffic regulations in different states, but as long as you do, you are fine. 

Currently gun laws are much more restrictive than those that apply to cars and drivers. Not only do many states regulate guns when they are on your own property, a license to carry a concealed handgun is much more restrictive regarding when you travel outside of your state. 

The proposed National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act contains two provisions: if your state issues a concealed handgun license, that permit will let you travel to other states. Of course, you also have to follow the rules in the state you visit, so for Illinois -- the single state that still bans concealed handguns -- an out-of-state license wouldn't let you carry a concealed handgun there. 

Gun control advocates are now apoplectic about the possibility of the bill passing. Democratic Senator Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey and Representative Carolyn McCarthy of New York released a letter last Wednesday warning that letting people carry concealed handguns constitutes a "dangerous measure" and "harmful legislation." 

Echoing the warnings made by gun control advocates when state concealed-handgun laws were originally passed, that permit holders would lose their tempers and there would be blood in the streets. Obviously that never happened. 

We now have extensive experience with concealed-handgun permit holders. In 2011, about 7 million Americans hold permits that allow them to carry concealed handguns. Forty-one of these states have relatively liberal right-to-carry laws, letting people obtain permits once they pass a criminal background check, pay a fee, and in many states receive training. 

Take Florida. Between Oct. 1, 1987, and July 31, 2011, Florida issued permits to over 2 million people, many of whom renewed their permits multiple times. Only 168 had their permits revoked for a firearms-related violation -- about 0.01 percent. 

The same pattern has been observed in state after state. Permit holders lose their permits at hundredths or thousands of one percent for any type of gun related violations, and in the few cases where licenses are revoked, it is usually due to rather trivial offenses. 

Actually, the legislation before the House today does not truly break new ground but simplifies a reciprocity system that is already in place. Most states already recognize permits from other states: 38 states recognize Missouri's permits, 36 for Florida, 35 for Utah, 34 Texas, 32 Ohio, and 29 Pennsylvania. And there is no evidence that these reciprocity agreements have caused any problems. 

In testimony before the House in September, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey raised two concerns

First, he gave an example where a Pennsylvania resident with a misdemeanor conviction had been obtained a concealed handgun permit in Florida. However, his example overlooks that because the conviction was quite old, the person could have obtained a Pennsylvania license if he had so chosen. 

Commissioner Ramsey also raised a hypothetical case: "How is the Brookfield officer supposed to verify that the Utah permit is real and up-to-date?" The answer is: the same way as for a driver's license -- via computer. 

Pennsylvania already honors gun permits from 25 states, and apparently the commissioner was not able to point to a problem with the existing system, so there is little reason to expect there to be a problem extending it to the rest of the states. 

Actually, police in the field are usually quite happy to find that a person who has a concealed handgun, and for good reason: the permit is proof that these individuals have passed a criminal background check. 

What is clear is that just like the original ruckus over passing concealed handgun laws, the fears about allowing people to travel with guns will soon be forgotten. 

John R. Lott, Jr. is a Fox News.com contributor. He is an economist and author of the recently  revised edition of "More Guns, Less Crime" (University of Chicago Press, 2010).

John R. Lott, Jr. is a columnist for FoxNews.com. He is an economist and was formerly chief economist at the United States Sentencing Commission. Lott is also a leading expert on guns and op-eds on that issue are done in conjunction with the Crime Prevention Research Center. He is the author of eight books including "More Guns, Less Crime." His latest book is "Dumbing Down the Courts: How Politics Keeps the Smartest Judges Off the Bench" Bascom Hill Publishing Group (September 17, 2013). Follow him on Twitter@johnrlottjr.