Federalism Implications of Non-Recognition of Licensure Reciprocity under the Gun-Free School Zones Act

Royce de R. Barondes, University of Missouri School of Law


Subject to certain exceptions, the Gun-Free School Zones Act prohibits firearms possession within 1000 feet of an elementary or secondary school by a person who is not licensed to do so by the state. Specifically, the language references one who "is licensed to do so by the State in which the school zone is located..." The ATF takes the anomalous position that licensure through reciprocity is not authorized by the federal statute. This position gives rise to a number of issues, which this Article develops as follows: The ATF's interpretation and the articulated rationale are detailed in Part I. As will be seen, the ATF's discussion is conclusory. The ATF merely asserts that the term "licensed by," when followed by reference to a governmental entity, excludes licensure through reciprocity. The manner in which states opt to authorize public firearms possession varies widely. Part II briefly sketches some of the variation, which puts in context the interpretive issue raised by the GFSZA. Parts III through V then illustrate that the ATF's interpretation, which the ATF asserts is commanded by a literal interpretation of the statute, is not in fact so compelled. Part III collects assorted authority where the term "licensed by" includes licensure through reciprocity or other automatic authorization without the licensing entity taking any licensee-specific action. Part IV then contrasts the outcome in King v. Burwell" to the position being taken by the ATF, concluding that finding the ATF's interpretation is not required by the statute is easier than supporting the interpretive outcome reached in Burwell. Part V then briefly discusses a part of the statute not prominently addressed by the ATF's interpretation, concluding that other language also does not mandate the interpretive outcome the ATF urges, at least as to reciprocity granted to out-of-state holders of otherwise satisfactory actual (physical) permits.