The House is expected to pass legislation on Wednesday that would make firearm concealed carry permits valid across state lines.
The bill, which the National Rifle Association has called its top legislative priority, would treat concealed carry permits more like drivers licenses, authorizing gun owners to travel with their firearms to other states that allow concealed carry. They say the measure would help otherwise law-abiding gun owners to avoid unwittingly violating conflicting state laws.
But critics say the legislation would result in gun restrictions being loosened to the lowest common denominator, preventing states from enforcing stricter laws within their own borders.
Democrats, who oppose the bill, have also railed against a move by Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee to combine the reciprocity bill with a second measure: bipartisan legislation designed to improve reporting of criminal histories to the federal background check database.
That bill came in response to the mass shooting at a church in Texas in November, where Air Force veteran Devin Kelley slaughtered more than two dozen people after he was able to legally purchase weapons despite a criminal history that, had it been been properly reported by the Air Force to the National Criminal Information Center Database, would have resulted in him failing a regular background check. The Air Force says it has since discovered seven other such reporting omissions.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, called the maneuver to combine the two bills a cynical ploy to force Democrats to vote against a bipartisan background check bill they support.
“This bill would eviscerate the core public safety determinations that each state makes concerning the concealed carrying of guns in public, based on the unique circumstances in each state and the desires of its citizens,” Nadler said at a meeting advancing the bill Tuesday night.
“There is broad bipartisan support for the Fix NICS bill here in the House and in the Senate,” he said. “That proposal, which actually would save lives, should not be tethered to the forced concealed carry reciprocity provisions of H.R. 38, which would only serve to endanger our citizens.”
Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the upper chamber and an author of the background check legislation, said he opposed combining the two measures even though he supports passing both.
“I support the Constitutional carry, because I view it kind of like a driver’s license. If you have a license of one state, you shouldn’t have to get a separate license in another state, but I think it’s a mistake to try to combine this with the fix NICS background check,” Cornyn told reporters last week.
“We have good bipartisan support for that. It’s really important and it will save lives, but if we start trying to add other things to it, then I think we risk not doing anything which has sort of been the fate of a lot of the legislation we’ve tried in the past,” he said. “So, I’d like to do the fix NICS and then we can move on from there.”