NRA: COVID-19 "turbocharged" Constitutional Carry debate

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

We’ve certainly seen an explosion of interest in Constitutional (or permitless, if you prefer) Carry laws enacted over the past two years, but did the COVID pandemic really play a major role in changing the debate over the measure? According to the head of NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, yes indeed.

“COVID actually turbocharged the constitutional carry movement,” National Rifle Association chief lobbyist Jason Ouimet told Secrets.

“When the men and women in law enforcement contracted COVID, a lot of them weren’t able to go to work, and you really were your first and only line of defense. You really were your own first responder in your house, and thank God for the Second Amendment that you have the ability to exercise this right in America,” he added.

That makes sense, though I would also add that the riots and unrest sparked by George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis in the summer of 2020 also had an impact on the legislative debate in many states. The violence that played out in city after city was exacerbated by COVID staffing shortfalls (as well as more frequent departures from big city departments), and that clearly led a lot of Americans to embrace their Second Amendment rights for the first time in their lives. At the same time, we were seeing delays in processing concealed carry applications in states like Illinois and cities like Philadelphia, which added more weight to the argument that requiring a permission slip to exercise a constitutionally-protected right is simply wrong.

With Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp expected to sign Constitutional Carry into law in just a few days, fully half the country will soon be Constitutional Carry states; a statistic that Oiumet calls “amazing”.

“It’s pretty historic. You look where this movement began in 1987 with only a handful of states having some form of right to carry to 35 years later, where we now have 25 constitutional carry states, 42 right-to-carry states, and a Supreme Court that will issue an opinion in the next three months in NYSRPA v. Bruen that may uproot the remaining eight may-issue states. That’s pretty amazing, and this movement the NRA has proudly been at the forefront of doesn’t show any sign of slowing down,” said Ouimet, who heads the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action.

While I agree with Ouimet about the historic victories of the right-to-carry revolution that kicked off in earnest in the late 1980s, I’m glad that he mentioned the Bruen case, because that’s going to be critical to moving the eight “may issue” states towards adopting at least a “shall issue” standard going forward. There’s no legislative momentum in states like New Jersey or California to willingly put a “shall issue” licensing system in place, so it’s going to be up to the Supreme Court to not only strike down New York’s “may issue” regime but to deliver a ruling with enough teeth to it that anti-2A lawmakers in “may issue” states can’t easily find a way around it.

There’s no doubt that the past couple of years have been instrumental in the right to carry revolution, and COVID may very well have helped spur things along. To keep up the momentum, however, gun owners also need to continue doing the hard work of electing pro-2A lawmakers at the state level. In Virginia, for example, Democrats still control the state Senate by a slim one-vote margin. If we can secure the state Senate in next year’s elections, then hopefully we too can join the growing ranks of Constitutional Carry states, even if we have to wait until 2024. In the meantime, I’ll be cheering on my friends and fellow activists in states like Ohio, Indiana, and Georgia as their hard work pays off.