House panel clears conceal-and-carry gun bill, with one Republican defection

The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday approved a gun-rights bill that could be headed to the floor by the end of 2011. 

The legislation, which would allow for conceal-and-carry weapon reciprocity across states lines, cleared the panel on a 19-11 vote. 

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All but one committee Republican, Rep. Dan Lungren (Calif.), supported the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act, which is sponsored by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.); Democrats united in opposition to the bill. Lungren and other Republicans have raised concerns about the legislation’s effect on the rights of states. 

GOP leadership sources told The Hill that the bipartisan measure, with 245 co-sponsors, will likely come up for a vote on the floor before year’s end. 

Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said the bill would make it easier for individuals with permits to cross state lines with their concealed weapons. 

“The bill allows law-abiding gun owners with valid state-issued concealed-firearms permits or licenses to carry a concealed firearm in any other state that also allows concealed carry. This legislation does not pre-empt a state's ability to set concealed-carry requirements for its own residents,” Smith said at the markup.

Lungren, a former attorney general of California, opposed the bill, contending it infringes on states’ rights. 

Lungren wants the measure to set a minimum national standard for conceal-and-carry permit holders. 

He is also concerned that residents of states with strict conceal-and-carry requirements would go to other states with less stringent requirements to obtain a permit. 

“I wanted to offer an amendment that the person be a resident of the state in order for the reciprocity imposed by federal law — in other words, a resident of the state that granted the permit,” Lungren said, noting that his concerns were not adequately addressed in committee. 

Democrats, meanwhile, cited the 10th Amendment, which deals with states’ rights, in opposing the Stearns bill.

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), a co-sponsor of the measure until Oct. 12 when he formally withdrew his support, called the bill “repugnant” to his “perspective of states’ rights.” 

“One thing the Tea Party is right on is that states ought to have more sovereignty. And on gun laws, states should have sovereignty, and we are taking away the sovereignty of the states,” Cohen said earlier this month. 

The White House has not indicated where it stands on the bill. The National Rifle Association (NRA) did not respond to several requests for comment.

But in an op-ed published on the conservative website Townhall.com, Chris Cox, the NRA’s chief lobbyist, stated that passage of the conceal-and-carry bill is a “top priority” for the organization. 

“The National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act doesn’t violate the 10th Amendment. Rather, the act recognizes that the Second Amendment guarantees the fundamental, individual right of every law-abiding citizen to bear arms for safety when traveling,” Cox wrote. 

That opinion, however, is not shared by other gun-rights activists.

John Velleco, director of federal affairs for the Gun Owners of America, noted that his organization has concerns with the bill, but it does not officially oppose it. 

Velleco said that states such as Vermont, Wyoming, Arizona and Alaska that do not require permits for individuals who choose to carry a concealed weapon would be punished under Stearns’s bill.

The gun group has endorsed bills offered by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) that would take into consideration those states without permit laws.