This week: Democrats set for showdown on voting rights, filibuster
House passes concealed carry gun bill
Two months after the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history, the House on Wednesday passed legislation that would allow people to use permits for carrying concealed handguns across state lines while also boosting the background check system.
Despite bipartisan support for enhancing background checks for gun purchases, the bill passed along party lines, 231-198, due to Democratic opposition to the concealed-carry reciprocity measure.
Six centrist Democrats voted with Republicans to approve the package: Reps. Sanford Bishop (Ga.), Henry Cuellar (Texas), Vicente Gonzalez (Texas), Ron Kind (Wis.), Collin Peterson (Minn.) and Kurt Schrader (Ore.).
Fourteen Republicans voted "no," including a mix of conservatives and centrists.
Conservative Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) held the mirror opposite position of Democrats who voted against the legislation: he supports concealed-carry reciprocity but didn't want the background check measure attached.
"It throws millions of dollars at a faulty program and it will result in more law-abiding citizens being deprived of their right to keep and bear arms," Massie wrote in a Facebook post ahead of the vote.
The gun policy measures were originally two separate bills. But House GOP leaders opted to combine them so that lawmakers only had to cast one vote.
Attaching the concealed-carry reciprocity measure puts the bipartisan measure to beef up background checks in jeopardy in the Senate.
The legislation as passed by the House faces an uncertain future in the upper chamber, where Democrats are sure to block the concealed-carry measure, but a bipartisan coalition has enough votes to break a filibuster on enhancing background checks.
Under the House legislation, people with permits for carrying concealed handguns could do so in any state that allows concealed weapons.
People could only use their concealed-carry permits in other states that allow the practice if they are carrying a valid government-issued photo ID and are lawfully licensed to possess a concealed handgun. They would still have to adhere to established state and local laws.
Concealed-carry reciprocity is a top legislative priority for the National Rifle Association, which has resisted proposals to restrict access to guns in response to mass shootings.
Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), the author of the concealed-carry bill, compared the concealed-carry reciprocity measure to how driver's licenses and marriage licenses are recognized across states.
He gave an example of a single mother in south Philadelphia who had twice been mugged and purchased a handgun to protect herself. But she traveled to New Jersey, which didn't recognize her Pennsylvania concealed-carry permit.
"If I get married in North Carolina but I move to Arizona, I'm not a single man again. They recognize that marriage," Hudson said during House floor debate. "The concealed-carry permit should be recognized the same way."
Gun reform groups lobbied against the concealed-carry measure. Mark Kelly, the co-founder of a group named after his wife, ex-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), said that the policy doesn't work if people aren't properly trained.
Kelly recalled how a well-intentioned man with a concealed gun almost shot one of the people responsible for wrestling the shooter who nearly killed Giffords in a 2011 shooting to the ground.
"The situation that played out in the Safeway parking lot that day shows the potential for tragedy and bloodshed when untrained people carrying loaded guns react to a crisis. Even with the best intentions, an armed person without the extensive firearms training that is required to respond under pressure in a crisis will risk making the situation worse, not better," Kelly wrote in a Washington Post op-ed.
States have varying requirements for carrying concealed weapons, like gun safety training, age limits, and prohibitions on individuals known to have abusive pasts.
The package also included a bill from Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) that would ensure authorities report criminal history records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and penalize agencies that don't report to the FBI.
Democrats supported the background check measure but balked at including the concealed-carry reciprocity.
"Unfortunately, the dangers posed by the concealed carry reciprocity portion of the bill greatly outweigh the benefits of the NICS improvements," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), the acting ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.
The shooter responsible for the Nov. 5 massacre at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, was prohibited from buying or possessing a gun due to a domestic violence conviction while serving in the Air Force. But the Air Force failed to enter the criminal record into the federal database used for gun background checks.
Another provision in the bill is in direct response to the Oct. 1 shooting in Las Vegas, which killed nearly 60 people and injured more than 500 others.
Law enforcement authorities found a dozen devices known as bump stocks, which are used to make weapons fire more rapidly, in the Las Vegas shooter's hotel room.
The measure would require the Justice Department to report to Congress on the number of times a bump stock has been used in a crime. It's far less stringent than bipartisan bills introduced in Congress since the Las Vegas shooting to prohibit the manufacture, sale and use of the devices.
But ahead of Wednesday's vote, the Justice Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) announced on Tuesday that it is considering a possible ban on certain bump stocks.
Lawmakers had been pushing for the Trump administration to clarify whether bump stocks violate the ban on fully automatic weapons manufactured after 1986.
"The regulatory clarification we begin today will help us to continue to protect the American people by carrying out the laws duly enacted by our representatives in Congress," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement.
Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) introduced a bipartisan bill after the Las Vegas shooting to ban bump stocks. He voted against the Wednesday legislation, citing the lack of an effort to prohibit the devices.
"[T]he refusal to meaningfully address dangerous bump stocks in this legislation is inexplicable and contrary to the position held by most Americans and the overwhelming majority of responsible gun owners," Curbelo said in a statement.
- This story was updated at 6 P.M. EST