Puerto Rico Governor Signs Sweeping Pro-Second Amendment Bill Into Law

While Virginia’s new legislative majority is looking to restrict the rights of law-abiding gun owners, politicians in Puerto Rico are moving in the right direction with a new bill signed into law by Governor Wanda Vazquez Garced that dramatically overhauls the U.S. territory’s gun laws. NRA-ILA reports the new law not only removes the discretionary issuance of concealed carry licenses for the island’s residents, it embraces the right to carry for all Americans as well.

Previously, Puerto Ricans were required to petition a court for the approval of a carry permit. The legislation also puts in place a flat $200 initial licensing fee, and a $100 renewal fee. This is a significant improvement over the old regime, where firearm licensing fees could range wildly.

Americans on the mainland are also set to benefit from Puerto Rico’s new gun laws. The legislation sets forth that Puerto Rico will recognize Right-to-Carry permits issued in the rest of the U.S.

What led to the sweeping changes benefitting gun owners? A lawsuit filed back in 2015 threatened to scuttle the territory’s gun laws, and while the laws were eventually upheld by an appellate court, it may be that lawmakers see the writing on the wall for “may issue” concealed carry and are hoping to stave off any additional legal challenges.

It could also be, however, that this is the start of a real show of support for the Second Amendment among lawmakers. Politics in Puerto Rico isn’t divided among the Democrats and Republicans as it is on the mainland. Governor Garced is a member of the New Progressive Party, but told a reporter for NBC Miami earlier this year that her politics lean towards the right.

Contrary to her predecessor Ricardo Rosselló, Vázquez says she is inclined toward Republican philosophies.

“Like individual rights, reduced government, that there aren’t unreasonable tax increases,” she said. “Basically a focus on economic development.”

Individual rights and reduced government are certainly components of the new gun laws in Puerto Rico, so this is on-brand for Governor Garced. As for the New Progressive Party itself, there are some members who align with Republicans, while others back Democrats, so it’s hard to get an easy idea of the individual representatives and why they voted the way they did. If any of our readers from Puerto Rico would like to educate me on some of the inside-baseball aspects to how the law passed, feel free to email me at [email protected]. Overall, I’d say that Governor Garced’s political philosophy and willingness to sign the overhaul of the territory’s gun laws bodes well for gun owners to work towards continued reform.

The new law in Puerto Rico may also have a positive legal effect on court challenges to the carry laws in several U.S. states, including New Jersey and Maryland. In both of those cases, plaintiffs are claiming that the discretionary issuance of concealed carry licenses violates their right to bear arms, and now their attorneys can point to Puerto Rico’s new law as another example of the continued recognition at the state level of a right to bear arms. There are only a handful of states in the nation that still allow for applicants to demonstrate “good cause”, but even one is too many. Tens of millions of Americans in California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island are denied their right to bear arms simply because their state treats the right as a privilege.

There are almost 19-million concealed carry licensees across the country, but can you imagine how many more we’d have if the average residents of Los Angeles County (population 10.16 million), New York City (population 8.6 million), New Jersey (population 8.9 million) could actually get a concealed carry license? Puerto Rico’s new gun law may help make that a reality.

The fact is, concealed carry laws have been moving in one direction only since the Right to Carry revolution began in Florida in the late 1980s. Since then we’ve seen the number of “shall issue” states grow to 41 (Connecticut and Delaware are “may issue” by statute, but largely “shall issue” in practice), and the number of permitless carry states grow from 1 to 15. No state has ever gone from “shall issue” to “may issue,” and no state that has adopted constitutional carry has repealed the law after it took effect.

Hopefully Puerto Rico’s new gun laws are just the beginning of true reform and recognition of the right to keep and bear arms in the territory. It’s a big step forward for Puerto Rico’s gun owners, and for our shared Second Amendment rights across the nation.