Shaneen Allen, a Philadelphia mother of two, was arrested during a traffic stop three years ago after she crossed from Pennsylvania into New Jersey with a loaded .380-caliber Bersa Thunder handgun -- unaware that her concealed-carry gun permit in her home state was not transferable to another.
Allen was eventually pardoned by the New Jersey governor after legal wrangling, but her case stirred a national debate over concealed-carry gun permits.
That debate has come to a head. On Wednesday the House of Representatives passed a bill, the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, that would oblige every state to recognize a concealed-carry gun permit issued by any other state.
So what does “reciprocity” mean? It means that anyone with a valid concealed-carry gun permit in one state may travel to any other state with the permitted weapon and not worry about being arrested or fined for carrying that concealed weapon as Allen was. In other words, each state must reciprocate the approval of a permit that any other state has issued.
Reciprocity does not affect any specific state’s laws about carrying a concealed weapon. Some states have relatively restrictive permitting procedures. New York state, for example, has one of the most rigorous standards for anyone seeking a concealed-carry gun permit. The process, if successful -- and success is far from guaranteed – entails completing a large amount of paperwork, months of waiting and detailed inquiries into applicants’ history and personal lives. The bill that just passed does not require New York to change or stop enforcing its existing laws. The state can continue to enforce relatively restrictive standards for anyone seeking, within the state of New York, a concealed-carry gun permit.
There are at least seven states whose laws about concealed carry are relatively strict. Besides New York, those states are Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland. The remaining 43 states generally take a somewhat less restrictive approach to applications for a concealed-carry gun permit.
Allen's case is one of several involving out-of-state, gun-toting citizens -- some of them tourists -- arrested and charged for carrying a concealed weapon outside of their home states.
Elizabeth Elderli never left her Houston home unarmed. So, when the 31-year-old former U.S. Marine visited Manhattan's September 11 Memorial in August 2015, two guns were in her backpack when she saw a "no firearms" sign at the security checkpoint.
Elderli told a police officer about the loaded 9 mm and .380-caliber semiautomatic pistols -- both covered by her Texas-issued concealed-carry weapons permit, which she believed was valid in New York, her attorney said at the time.
But she quickly learned that the Empire State's gun control laws bear no resemblance to those in .the Lone Star State Elderli was arrested in the incident, charged with felony possession of a weapon and left facing 3 ½ to 15 years in prison.
Mark Bederow, who has handled similar cases, told Fox News that he hopes the bill -- whether it passes or not -- will force authorities in New York to rethink the criminal prosecution of gun owners like Elderli who make an "honest mistake."
"If it doesn't go through, I hope the Act’s support will lead New York prosecutors to re-evaluate the usefulness of criminally prosecuting honest, law-abiding firearms owners who accidentally run afoul of New York’s stringent weapons laws," Bederow said.
For reasons such as these, the House-passed reciprocity bill has been hailed by supporters -- including President Donald Trump -- as a common sense measure and considered a top legislative priority for the National Rifle Association.
But its critics raise serious concerns. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has accused Republicans of doing the bidding of the National Rifle Association. Two months after two of the deadliest shootings in U.S. history, Republicans were "brazenly moving to hand the NRA the biggest item on its Christmas wish list," said Pelosi, D-Calif.
Before Wednesday’s vote, critics took to Twitter blasting the bill -- including Mark Kelly, the husband of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head but survived during an attempted assassination in 2011.
The NRA, meanwhile, called criticism of the bill "fake news."
The bill comes as the latest polling shows the majority of Americans support stricter gun laws in the wake of several mass shootings, including America's deadliest mass-shooting to date in Las Vegas on October 1. A Gallup poll released in November found that a majority of Americans for the first time since Gallup asked in 2000 now favor passing new gun laws.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.