D.A. Dan Conley Speaks Out on Concealed Carry Reciprocity

On December 6, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 38, the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which would require all 50 states to honor concealed carry permits issued in any other state. One vocal critic of the bill is Daniel F. Conley, the District Attorney of Suffolk County, Massachusetts (which includes Boston), who joined Prosecutors Against Gun Violence last week on Capitol Hill to fight a bill that he says would increase gun violence in Massachusetts. He spoke to us about why H.R. 38 will exacerbate gun violence, and how it impacts police officers and first responders.

You’ve been vocal about your opposition to H.R. 38, the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act (CCRA). What are your main concerns?

The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act is the opposite of sensible gun policy.  We should be exporting Massachusetts’ common-sense gun laws to the rest of the country, not importing the lax standards in place in other jurisdictions. There are 12 states that don’t require any gun permit at all, meaning any resident of those states can carry a concealed firearm automatically. Other states issue gun permits using much lower standards than we do, including to non-residents. Massachusetts residents don’t want to give domestic abusers, stalkers, other violent offenders carte blanche to carry firearms in their cities and towns, but that’s exactly what the CCRA would impose on them.

Massachusetts has some of the strongest gun laws in the country, and a low rate of gun violence. What impact do you think CCRA would have on Boston and Suffolk County?

Our high legislative strength and low rate of fatalities is no coincidence.  The Journal of the American Medical Association drew a direct correlation between the two.  Right now, local police chiefs — who know their communities extremely well — have the authority to deny unfit candidates a license to carry.  Prosecutors have an array of smart, well-thought laws and meaningful penalties in place when they try a gun case.  All of this would be undermined by allowing convicted stalkers and domestic abusers to carry a concealed firearm legally in our cities and towns.

For all our progress on common-sense gun legislation, the majority of Massachusetts crime guns come here from out of state, and more homicides statewide are committed with firearms than all other weapons combined.  Bringing more out-of-state guns with fewer regulations into Massachusetts means more guns carried, distributed, and used illegally in our communities.  That means more shootings and homicides statewide, but particularly in Boston and Suffolk County — where gun violence disproportionately harms people and communities of color.

Penalties for many crimes escalate when the assailant has a firearm. If significantly more assailants could potentially legally possess firearms, how would that affect your department’s ability to enforce the law?

Police and prosecutors would be hamstrung in seeking appropriate enhancements when a criminal offense would normally be aggravated by possession of a firearm but the defendant has a valid license to carry from a state with few or no regulations.  But an even greater threat would be our ability to solve and prosecute the increase in gun violence.  In almost every big city, most shootings and gun homicides take place outdoors.  Contrary to what you might see on television, these cases don’t lend themselves to forensic examination.  There are no fingerprints, DNA, or other trace evidence at the scene, and if the assailant makes good his escape it can be next to impossible to identify him.  So with more guns on the street, we can expect the number and rate of shootings and homicide to rise while the ability of law enforcement to solve them plummets.

From your perspective, it seems like it would be administratively difficult to verify the validity of every concealed carry permit from any state that comes to your office. Is there a system that makes it possible for law enforcement to check whether a suspect’s permit is valid? Can you train your department to recognize fraudulent permits from any of the 50 states?

From an administrative and law enforcement standpoint, concealed carry reciprocity would fall somewhere between nightmarishly difficult to impossible. Let’s take this issue in order, as far as what it means for police. First, with concealed carry reciprocity, and the fact that there are 12 states that are completely permitless and many others with much lower standards than we have in Massachusetts, every interaction between police and out-of-state visitors becomes much more dangerous, volatile, and unpredictable. Police are already forced into stressful situations where they need to make split-second decisions. Adding in this variable where virtually anyone they are interacting with might be carrying a concealed weapon and has very likely undergone little vetting or training, is reckless in the extreme. Even beyond this threat to life, however, this legislation exposes police officers to the threat of personal liability if they so much as mistakenly question a person’s legal authority to possess a concealed firearm. Think about that for a moment: for a police officer to even ask for proof of a concealed weapon permit would be enough to open law enforcement officials to being personally sued. This is utterly unfair to those police officers and to the people the people they are sworn to protect.  

News coverage of the recent shooting at a WalMart in Colorado noted that law enforcement had a difficult time identifying the gunman because security footage showed a number of people on the scene with guns drawn. Are you concerned that CCRA could make the job of law enforcement more difficult when it comes to responding to a call involving a shooter?

I actually saw an account from a private citizen at the scene of the Las Vegas shooting whose first instinct was to run towards the sound of trouble with his handgun drawn, but was stopped by friends who told him he could easily be mistaken as a threat by first-responders and by the concert goers who didn’t know where the shots were coming from. I imagine he wasn’t the only one there. I know there is a mindset that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with good people with guns, but the facts and evidence don’t bear that out – certainly not in a public setting. It just creates chaos and uncertainty. I’m grateful that this is not a fact pattern we’ve encountered in Massachusetts but, as Congress has refused to act and the frequency of mass shootings has increased, something like CCRA is not going to do anything to stop those mass shootings.  I believe it will only add to the overall rate of gun violence, and it will also leave police and other first responders with no practical way to differentiate someone’s lawful standing or overall intent in what are already highly charged, dangerous, and fast-moving situations.

Is there anything else you’d like to touch on?

The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act obliterates any notion that states can decide for themselves what type of laws make sense for their residents. States also already have the ability to enter into reciprocity agreements with other states. But it makes zero sense to force a state like Massachusetts, with its major cities and population density to essentially adopt the standard of a rural, sparsely populated state that has no gun laws whatsoever. That might work in Vermont but it cannot and will not work in Massachusetts, where residents overwhelmingly favor strong gun laws. We’ve made huge strides in passing smart legislation, reducing violent crime, and driving down incarceration to the second-lowest rate in the country. The CCRA will undermine that progress in one fell swoop. It will bring more firearms with fewer regulations into Massachusetts, which will increase the crimes that cause death and serious injury and the ones most likely to result in incarceration on conviction. Finally, in addition to threatening police officers with legal liability for just doing their jobs, it increases the uncertainty and volatility attached to interactions between police and the citizenry, and it’s going to put lives at risk.

Contact your senators today and ask them to oppose any bill that establishes concealed carry reciprocity!