Commodities: House Votes to Loosen Restrictions on Concealed Weapons

By Joe Palazzolo and Kristina Peterson 

The House of Representatives passed a bill that would enable gun owners who legally carry concealed firearms in one state to carry them in the other 49 states, sending a major expansion of gun rights to the Senate, where it faces deep opposition from Democrats.

The bill, approved by a vote of 231-198 on Wednesday, would allow residents from states with few restrictions on concealed guns to walk around armed in states with tighter laws. Residents of 12 states where it is legal to carry a concealed gun without a permit would be able to bring firearms into states like New York, where residents must demonstrate a special need for self-protection for the same right.

Republicans bundled the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, introduced by Rep. Richard Hudson (R., N.C.), with another bill that would prod states and federal agencies to feed more records into the federal criminal-backgroundcheck system queried in most gun purchases.

While House Democrats supported that latter measure as a standalone bill, they broadly opposed the reciprocity legislation, which they said would trample on the prerogative of states to set their own standards for carrying guns in public.

Those standards vary widely. More than half the states require applicants to show they have received firearm training, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a gun-control group. Some states give law-enforcement officials broad discretion to reject applications for concealed-carry permits, bar applicants with violent misdemeanors or impose a minimum age of 21 years.

Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D., Conn.) called the legislation a “reckless giveaway” to the gun lobby. The National Rifle Association has been a chief supporter for the bill.

“This bill would override and lower most states’ concealed-carry laws,” Ms. Esty said.

Republicans said the right to carry a concealed gun transcended state boundaries and described the legislation as a solution to the patchwork of agreements between states that allow gun owners to carry their weapons in some states but not others.

“This is a common-sense measure that upholds our constitutional right,” Mr. Hudson said on the House floor before the vote, noting that half the states already recognize permits from some other states.

In many states, concealed-carry permits enjoy bipartisan and police support. But the reciprocity legislation is opposed by the Major Cities Chiefs Association, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys and other law-enforcement groups.

Police who detained out-of-towners for carrying guns could be sued for damages, under one provision of Mr. Hudson’s bill, though they could still conduct brief stops, known as Terry stops.

Republicans said armed, law-abiding citizens deter crime, while Democrats argued the bill would stoke gun violence. Research on state concealed-carry laws has produced conflicting results.

The most recent study, published last month in the American Journal of Public Health, found that states where law-enforcement officials have little or no discretion over who can obtain permits to carry concealed weapons experience higher rates of handgun homicides than states where officials have broad discretion over permits.

The vote Wednesday marked the first gun bill passed by Congress since a gunman killed 58 people at an Oct. 1 music festival in Las Vegas and a shooter in Texas opened fire at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs on Nov. 5, killing 26 people.

The Texas shooter brought guns despite a 2012 court-martial conviction for domestic abuse that should have disqualified him from owning firearms. The U.S. military failed to send his criminal records to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, known as the NICS.

The Fix NICS Act, backed in the House by Texas Reps. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat, and John Culberson, a Republican, among others, would require the head of federal agencies to certify compliance with requirements to report records to the FBI and would incentivize states to contribute more records.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas said this week that the House decision to combine the concealed-carry bill with the Fix NICS Act would make it harder to pass the background-check legislation, which he introduced in the Senate, where it has broad, bipartisan support.

Senate aides said the concealed-carry bill may struggle to get the 60 votes most legislation needs to clear procedural hurdles in the chamber.

“I support both of those bills, but I recognize that if you combine them, it makes it much harder to pass the consensus bill, which is the Fix NICS bill,” Mr. Cornyn told reporters this week. “It’s important enough that we ought to handle those sequentially, would be my advice, as opposed to combining them.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Cornyn said he was working with other senators to see if they could pass the background-checks system legislation quickly in the Senate, through a process that requires none of the Senate’s 100 lawmakers to object.

Write to Joe Palazzolo at [email protected] and Kristina Peterson at [email protected]

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