NEWS

One Month After Texas Church Shooting, House Republicans Vote To Expand Gun Rights

The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act shows where GOP priorities lie.

06/12/2017 23:49 SAST | Updated 07/12/2017 00:09 SAST
Rick Wilking / Reuters
A line of crosses memorializes some of the victims of the Sutherland Springs shooting.

WASHINGTON ― House Republicans passed legislation on Wednesday that would force states to honor concealed carry permits issued in other states, including those with far looser regulations. The bill’s advancement is a major win for the National Rifle Association, while opponents fear the measure will endanger Americans, particularly domestic violence victims.

The 231-198 vote, largely on party lines, comes one month after a shooter killed 26 people in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas — about half of them children — and roughly two months after 58 people were shot to death at a concert in Las Vegas. 

“How can we face the families of these people and say this bill is the best we could do?” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) asked on Wednesday. 

The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act would treat concealed carry permits more like driver’s licenses, meaning that anyone who is allowed to carry a hidden firearm in one state could legally carry the weapon across state lines. This would have a particularly dramatic impact in places like New York City, which has very tough concealed carry restrictions but would have to honor the permits from other states, including those like Vermont that require no permits.

The concealed carry measure, which the House coupled with a modest background check fix, is considered dead on arrival in the Senate, as Republicans would need support from a number of Democrats to overcome a filibuster there. But the House vote still illustrates congressional priorities as Americans grapple with the worst mass shootings in recent history.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said that currently, “those traveling or living on the border of a state that does not recognize their home state’s laws could have their gun rights stripped when they cross state lines. That’s wrong.”

She added, “This bill is crucial to protecting our constitutional rights.” 

Gun rights advocates have long pushed concealed carry reciprocity as a way to ensure that “good guys with a gun” can more easily travel with their firearms. But the bill reduces concealed carry standards to the weakest state link, opponents argue, and that has some law enforcement officials worried. 

Right now, under federal law, certain domestic abusers are not permitted to own firearms. But federal law does not cover dating partners or stalkers. Many, but not all, states have passed their own laws to fill in the gaps, HuffPost’s Melissa Jeltsen noted. So under the bill, an abuser blocked from obtaining a concealed carry permit in Massachusetts, because he was convicted of sexually assaulting his girlfriend, could obtain a permit in neighboring New Hampshire, which does not have the same limits on concealed carry, according to an analysis by Everytown for Gun Safety. 

“Domestic violence victims often flee to other states,” Lindsay Nichols, federal policy director at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, told HuffPost earlier this week. “This bill would embolden many abusers who currently cannot carry a gun to cross state lines armed to continue the abuse.”

The fact that the bill isn’t expected to move in the Senate is not much reassurance for many advocates who want Congress to focus on actual gun violence prevention efforts. But there was one slightly less dim spot for them on Wednesday: Congress held a hearing on bump stocks, an accessory used by the Las Vegas gunman that allows semi-automatics to shoot more like fully automatic weapons. Restricting bump stocks has unusually broad support; even the NRA backs additional regulations.

But it’s taken Congress more than two months since the Las Vegas shooting to hold the hearing. And it’s unclear whether the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives can impose restrictions on these devices without Congress.

“Why should the United States of America be the only rich country in the world that cannot protect our families from gun violence? It doesn’t have to be this way,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.).