By Chris W. Cox

Thanks to the hard work of National Rifle Association members, gun owners, and freedom-loving patriots nationwide, Americans are now one step closer to strengthening our fundamental right to self-defense.

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act (H.R. 822) by a majority, bipartisan vote of 272 to 154. The act would allow any American citizen with a valid, state-issued concealed-carry permit to exercise his right to carry a firearm in any state that affords the same right to its own residents.

Currently, 49 states have laws that permit concealed-carry. Only Illinois and the District of Columbia deny their residents the right to carry a concealed firearm outside their homes and workplaces for self-defense.

The problem is that interstate recognition of these various permit laws is not consistent. Some states recognize permit holders from other states, and others refuse to recognize any state's permit but their own. The National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act would solve this problem by requiring states that allow concealed-carry to recognize each other's permits, in the same way they recognize each other's driver's licenses.

Some have erroneously claimed that H.R. 822 would create a "federal gun-licensing" system. This is not true. In fact, the bill protects the right of each state to issue its own permits and determine its own rules regarding concealed carry - such as where carrying is prohibited and where it's allowed. Visiting permit-holders are required to abide by each state's unique rules the same way they must obey each state's speed limits.

Others have tried to argue that H.R. 822 violates the Tenth Amendment right of every state to make its own laws. Again, this is false. The fact is that the Second Amendment guarantees the individual right of every law-abiding citizen to bear arms. This is an inalienable right that neither the federal government, nor any state government, may infringe upon. Furthermore, Congress has the power (under the 14th Amendment) to protect citizens from state infringement of their constitutional rights.

Predictably, the gun-control lobby is trotting out the same "Wild West" scare tactics we hear from it every time Congress moves to protect our Second Amendment freedoms. And once again, its hysteria falls flat when faced with the facts.

In fact, as the number of right-to-carry states has more than doubled since 1991, the violent crime rate has fallen to a 38-year low. Murder has fallen by more than half, to a 47-year low. In the last dozen years, numerous peer-reviewed studies by economists and criminologists have found that violent crime decreased faster in areas where right-to-carry laws had gone into effect.

This should be no surprise, since Americans with concealed-carry permits are more law-abiding than the general public.

The National Rifle Association has made H.R. 822 a top priority for good reason: It restores a basic freedom that most Americans hold dear. Many of us packed up our families this past week and made long trips to visit distant relatives for Thanksgiving. Our fundamental right to defend ourselves and our loved ones shouldn't vanish at the state line.

Chris W. Cox is the executive director of the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action and serves as the organization's chief lobbyist.