WASHINGTON — A key House panel is expected to pass legislation Wednesday to expand the rights of concealed carry permit holders — the National Rifle Association’s top legislative priority — as part of the first congressional action on gun legislation since this fall’s mass shootings.
The House Judiciary Committee will consider the “Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act” alongside separate, less controversial legislation to boost authorities' compliance with the federal background check system.
The concealed carry bill would require each state to recognize concealed carry permits from every other state — as they would a driver’s license — regardless of different permitting standards. Residents of several states that require no permits would be able to carry their weapons in other states that allow concealed carry, as long as they abide by local laws.
It would also allow off-duty law enforcement officers and certain retired officers to carry a concealed firearm in a school zone.
The bill is expected to pass the committee and quickly advance to the House floor, perhaps as early as next week. It likely would have a tougher time in the Senate, where it would need Democratic votes to pass, though similar legislation came within three votes of advancing in 2013.
“For me and the vast majority of Americans who support concealed carry reciprocity, this is welcome progress,” Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., the bill’s sponsor, said of the announcement that the committee would take up his bill.
The action follows two of the deadliest shootings in modern U.S. history. In October, a gunman killed 58 people and wounded more than 500 in Las Vegas. A month later, another gunman opened fire in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing 25 people including a pregnant woman whose unborn baby also died.
Gun control advocates are fighting the bill, saying it endangers public safety and makes it harder for police to enforce gun laws by forcing states with strong permitting standards to honor permits from states with weaker ones. While every state and the District of Columbia allows the carrying of concealed weapons in some form, 38 states generally require a state-issued permit to carry in public and the remaining 12 generally allow gun owners to carry concealed weapons in public without a permit, according to Giffords Law Center.
“After two of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history, Americans expect Congress to work in a bipartisan way to strengthen – not weaken – our gun laws,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety.
The NRA has lobbied intensely for the bill, urging its passage as part of its response to the Las Vegas shooting. They say it would eliminate a confusing patchwork of state concealed-carry laws and reciprocity agreements that can cause a law-abiding gun owner to unwittingly break the law while traveling out of state.
Hudson told USA TODAY earlier this month that the shootings at a Las Vegas concert and Texas church only intensified his colleagues and constituents’ interest in his bill, reinforcing the belief that carrying a concealed weapon is an important way to protect and defend themselves.
The separate background check legislation is supported by both the NRA and gun control advocates. The bill came as a response to the Texas shooting, which may have been prevented if authorities had reported the gunman’s violent history.
That bill penalizes federal agencies that fail to properly report relevant records and provides incentives to states to improve their overall reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The bill also directs more federal funding to the accurate reporting of domestic violence records.