Virginia attorney general attacks concealed-carry

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring caused a pre-Christmas political furor Tuesday morning by announcing the state would revoke "concealed handgun permit recognition with 25 states."

"I have recommended the State Police terminate the reciprocity agreements with 25 states whose laws are not adequate to prevent issuance of a concealed handgun permit to individuals that Virginia would disqualify," Herring said.

The State Police have "begun sending letters to the 25 states informing them that, as of Feb. 1, their permits will no longer be recognized by Virginia," said Herring, adding that he based his decision on an audit his office and the State Police conducted of the concealed carry permit laws of 30 states with which Virginia has concealed carry reciprocity.

Virginia grants reciprocity when another state's permitting process includes "instantaneous verification of the validity of all such permits or licenses issued within that state, accessible 24 hours a day." The Old Dominion also requires "the requirements and qualifications of that state's law" to be "adequate to prevent possession of a permit or license by persons who would be denied a permit in the Commonwealth."

The Commonwealth will continue to recognize permits from just five states - Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia.

Herring said revoking reciprocity for the 25 states is "a commonsense step that can help make Virginians and our law enforcement officers safer by ensuring that our concealed carry laws and safety standards apply to everyone in Virginia, whether they are a resident or a visitor."

The move drew a swift rebuke from House Republicans.

"I have little doubt as to (Herring's) true motivations," House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) said in a press release. "Mark Herring consistently seeks to interpret and apply the law of the Commonwealth through the lens of his own personal, political opinions. He is damaging the integrity of the office he holds.”

Delegate Rob Bell (R-Albemarle), who has already declared his candidacy for the GOP's attorney general nomination in 2017, said: "Virginians who have concealed carry permits may lose the ability to protect themselves when traveling in 25 states."

Herring's printed remarks acknowledge that at least six states - Florida, Louisiana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Wyoming - "will no longer recognize Virginia concealed handgun permits because of laws in those states that require mutual recognition of permits."

Among Second Amendment advocates, the reaction to Herring's order was even stronger.

"Just like the McAuliffe’s state-agency gun ban, this isn’t about public safety at all," Virginia Citizens Defense League wrote in an email blast to its members. "It is about vindictively attacking (concealed carry permit) holders, paying back Bloomberg for campaign donations, and coddling criminals and terrorists."

The group promised that legislation would be introduced in the 2016 General Assembly session that would overturn Herring's decision, and "change the law to honor the permits from ALL other states."

Herring's action did find some outside support.

"One can argue this fits in with enforcing the laws we already have on the books," ACLU of Virginia executive director Claire Guthrie Gastanaga wrote on her Facebook page. "Our law says we only offer reciprocity to states with concealed carry laws that are equivalent to ours, not weaker than ours."