The House takes up its first pro-gun bill of the year with a measure giving people with concealed weapon permits in one state the right to carry a concealed weapon in other states.
The National Rifle Association-backed bill would apply to 49 states that issue some sort of concealed carry permit. Illinois and the District of Columbia prohibit the concealed carrying of weapons.
Supporters said it would end the confusion in which some states recognize permits from other states while others do not, or set conditions. Opponents argued that states that set tough standards for getting a permit would have to recognize permits from states that require less training or put fewer restrictions on who is eligible for a concealed weapon permit.
The bill, said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, "simply allows Americans who travel to take their Second Amendment rights with them."
The legislation has some 245 sponsors in the House and is expected to pass easily when it comes up for a vote Wednesday. The outcome is less certain in the Democratic-controlled Senate. There currently is no parallel Senate bill, although two years ago Republicans nearly succeeded in attaching similar legislation to a larger spending bill.
There hasn't been much legislative action on firearms issues this year, although a spending bill the House is expected to vote on this week has provisions barring the Justice Department from consolidating firearms sales records or maintaining information on people who have passed firearms background checks.
A Senate Judiciary Committee panel, meanwhile, held a hearing Tuesday at which Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., pressed the Justice Department to step up enforcement of requirements that states turn over records to a federal background check system. Among the witnesses was a victim of the Tucson, Ariz., shooting that severely wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Schumer took the occasion to criticize the House's concealed weapons bill.
"It seems perverse that the first gun-related measure that this Congress plans to take up since the Tucson shooting is one that seeks to dismantle states' ability to protect their own citizens," Schumer said. "It's like a bad dream."
Another gun-control advocate from New York, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, and Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., last week wrote President Barack Obama urging him to issue a veto threat against the bill. Passing the bill "would jeopardize public safety and would be an insult to states like New Jersey and New York that purposefully have strong gun ownership laws," they wrote.
The administration has not yet taken an official position on the bill.
The chief sponsors of the measure, Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., and Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., said it would not create a federal licensing system but merely require states to honor one another's carry permits, just as states recognize driver's licenses from other states.
People who are unable to get a permit in their home state would not be able to carry a concealed weapon in their home state by getting a permit in another state.
Thirty-five states have "shall issue" permit laws that usually require states to issue permits to those who meet legal requirements. Ten others have "may issue" or discretionary permit laws. Vermont, Arizona, Alaska and Wyoming do not require a permit to carry a concealed weapon.