Virginia Sen. Bill Carrico had strong words Tuesday when asked his opinion of Attorney General Mark Herring's announcement that the state will stop honoring out-of-state concealed handgun carry permits from gun owners in 25 states, including Tennessee.
“I absolutely think it’s absurd,” Carrico, a Republican from Galax, said Tuesday. “I think it’s a threat to the people of Virginia that have concealed carry handgun permit reciprocity from other states. … This is all political and I hope people see that.”
The permits won’t be recognized starting Feb. 1 and the change will particularly affect border cities such as Bristol. Also on the list of states whose permits won’t be honored are North Carolina and Kentucky.
In six of the 25 states, Virginia permits will no longer be recognized because their laws require mutual acceptance of permits. Four of the 25 states already include Virginia among states whose permits aren't accepted.
The states whose permits won’t be recognized have weaker laws that don't meet Virginia's standards, Herring said Tuesday when he announced the results of an audit of other states conducted by the Virginia State Police.
Herring described the move as a "commonsense step" to make Virginians and law enforcement officers safer by ensuring that the states concealed carry laws are applied evenly, according to the Richmond-Times Dispatch.
"Strong, consistent enforcement of Virginia's laws and safety standards can prevent disqualified people who may be dangerous or irresponsible from utilizing a concealed handgun permit, and it's what the law requires," Herring said.
But Washington County Sheriff Fred Newman disagrees.
“I would love to see every state recognize each other’s permits and have total reciprocity,” Newman said. “I’m a Second Amendment-rights person. Guns have been around for a hundred years—permits aren’t the issue—if people want to commit a crime utilizing a hand gun they don’t care if they have a permit.”
Law enforcement officers won’t be affected by the restriction, Newman said, due to the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act, which allows qualified law enforcement officers and qualified retired law enforcement to carry a concealed firearm in any jurisdiction in the U.S. regardless of state or local laws.
Citizens and business owners on both the Virginia and Tennessee sides of Bristol said Tuesday afternoon that the decision is a bad one.
Virginia resident Rob Culberson said he thinks the people in the nine counties around Richmond don’t care about the conceal carry issue because they don’t cross the state line on a daily basis.
“I think it’s a crock,” Culberson said. “I think this is a political play that will have a greater impact on Bristol, Tennessee residents than Virginia residents. If a Tennessee resident has a conceal-carry permit and has their firearm they won’t even be able to cross the street.”
It is a Class 1 misdemeanor to carry a concealed handgun in Virginia without a conceal carry license—unless the person carrying is in his or her home, property or fixed place of business. Penalties for a first offense include a fine of up to $2,500, up to 12 months in jail, or both. A second offense can result in a $2,500 fine, at least one year and as long as five years in prison, or both.
According to Virginia State Police Trooper Allen Kelly that law does not apply to open carry in the state, but that can change from town to town.
"Anyone can open carry in the state," he said. "But," he cautioned, "The same laws apply to open carry as conceal carry. Also the law is subject to jurisdiction. So before anyone decides to open carry in Virginia they need to check the law in their city or town."
Greg Isenberg, who lives in Tennessee, said he doesn’t have a conceal-carry permit but he’s against the move.
“Basically, if I had a permit and had a gun and crossed the street I’d be a criminal” he said. “If I had a permit that would make me feel like I had wasted my time and money. I just don’t think that’s right.”
Jake Stusslestreet, a loans and sales clerk at Uncle Sam’s Pawn Shop on West State Street, where Virginia and Tennessee meet in downtown Bristol, said it’s not a good idea.
“I can’t see that this won’t affect our firearms sales,” he said. “We’re on the state line. This also leaves people in this town who have permits in a precarious situation when they buy a gun from us. How are they supposed to cross the street? People who have a conceal-carry permit in both states are law-abiding citizens and I think that this is just another way that the government is whittling away at citizens’ rights to bear arms.”
Ed Buchanan, with K & R Pawn in Abingdon, Virginia, said the shop was inundated with calls once the news broke.
“We’ve had calls all day and our Facebook page is blowing up,” Buchanan said. “People don’t know what to do or where they can carry. People are beginning to ask me why they should even get a permit. Right now, people are wondering what Virginia is coming to.”
Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, has been unsuccessful in his gun-control efforts and he has taken some steps through executive action, including the recent ban on concealed guns in most state offices.
Herring’s announcement came three weeks before the start of the General Assembly session, which is controlled by Republicans. In November, a bill was filed that would require Virginia to recognize permits from other states. If approved, it would reverse Herring’s ruling.
Carrico said he’ll address the issue come January.
“A lot of the governor’s power is deferred to the General Assembly at that point and I’ll be getting with my collegues to circumvent everything this governor has done on this point,” he said. “I have a budget amendment that I’m looking at to take away his executive protection unit. If he’s so afraid of guns, then I’m not going to surround him with armed state policemen.”