The House delivered a win for gun rights groups Wednesday with the passage of legislation that would force states to recognize concealed carry permits issued by other states and would strengthen the federal gun background check system.
The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, backed by Republicans, was adopted in a 231-198 vote that mostly followed party lines. The Senate now will take up the measure.
Supporters say the proposal would give law-abiding citizens the ability to protect themselves when they travel, but critics say it eviscerates states’ rights to uphold their own firearms standards by allowing gun owners who obtain permits in states with lesser requirements to carry in all 50 states.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, said the bill can help alleviate confusion over the patchwork of concealed carry regulations that vary by state and will ensure that citizens’ Second Amendment rights aren’t curtailed when they travel across state lines.
“The truth is that concealed carry laws save lives,” Mr. Ryan said.
The National Rifle Association, which endorsed the bill, praised lawmakers.
“This vote marks a watershed moment for Second Amendment rights,” said Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action. “The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act is the culmination of a 30-year movement recognizing the right of all law-abiding Americans to defend themselves, and their loved ones, including when they cross state lines.”
Democrats said the bill undermines states that have more restrictive regulations governing the concealed carry of firearms. They were angry that the bill was merged with another proposal, which originally had Democratic support, that was meant to strengthen the federal background check system.
The background check proposal included in the reciprocity bill would punish federal agencies that fail to report their records on domestic violence to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which screens gun purchases from licensed firearms dealers. It also would create incentives for states to report more records.
The Fix NICS bill would save lives but shouldn’t be tethered to the reciprocity bill, said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, as he encouraged colleagues to vote against the proposal while it was debated on the House floor.
“No one should pass a firearms background check that he or she should have failed simply because their record of a felony conviction or domestic violence record, or some other prohibition under federal law, was not included in the system,” Mr. Nadler said.
Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat who survived a 2011 shooting, said she was furious about the bill’s passage.
“I’m angry that with shootings on the rise, the response from politicians is to sell out to the gun lobby and weaken our public safety laws,” Ms. Giffords said in a statement issued shortly after the vote.
Lawmakers raised concern about the background check system after last month’s fatal shooting at a Texas church. The gunman had a conviction during his time in the Air Force that should have disqualified him from buying a gun from a licensed dealer. But the Air Force failed to report his conviction to federal authorities, and he was not flagged in the system.
Concealed carry regulations vary widely from state to state.
Twelve states do not require a person to obtain a permit in order to carry a concealed gun in public, according to data compiled by Everytown for Gun Safety. But even among states that do require permits, 31 states and the District of Columbia require gun safety training, 21 require live-fire training and 27 prohibit people convicted of misdemeanor crimes of violence from obtaining permits.
Rep. Richard Hudson, the North Carolina Republican who sponsored the reciprocity bill, pushed back against arguments that the legislation would eviscerate states’ gun laws. States could still enforce laws that regulate what types of firearms can be carried or where or how they can be carried, he said.
“If you visit the state of New York, they have a limit on the size of a magazine on a pistol — you’ve got to follow that law,” said Mr. Hudson. “If they want to set restrictions about places where you can’t carry, even with this legislation, that law would have to be followed. The states retain this right.”
Not all gun rights groups support the combined reciprocity and NICS bill.
Gun Owners of America opposes the background check portion of the bill. It argues that many prospective gun owners are flagged in the background check system for minor infractions such as having unpaid parking tickets.
“Hopefully, the passage of the reciprocity language in the House will serve to kill the background check language in the Senate,” said Erich Pratt, the group’s executive director. “Passing a stand-alone reciprocity bill will restore concealed carry rights and save lives.”
The Firearms Policy Coalition also acknowledged concerns about the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
“We will continue to work towards improving the Fix NICS Act through amendments that protect against anti-gun executive agencies and bureaucrats, as well as establishing a system that allows people to check their firearm eligibility and correct defects in their record before police officers are sent to their homes,” the group said in a statement.
The California-based group also opposes the bill’s inclusion of unique gun protections for federal judges and other government workers but said it will “work towards passage of a strong carry reciprocity framework as well as communicate our concerns and suggestions for reasonable, commonsense amendments to better protect law-abiding people.”