A state permit to carry a concealed firearm would be valid in almost every other state in the country under legislation the House passed Wednesday.
The first pro-gun bill the House has taken up this year and the first since Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., was severely injured in a gun attack in January, it had the National Rifle Association's backing and passed by a comfortable margin. The vote was 272-154, with only seven Republicans voting against it and 43 Democrats supporting it.
The Democratic-controlled Senate has no parallel bill. But two years ago, GOP Sens. John Thune of South Dakota and David Vitter of Louisiana nearly succeeded in attaching a similar measure to a larger bill.
Under the House legislation, people with a concealed carry permit in one state could carry a concealed weapon in every other state that gives people the right to carry concealed weapons. While states have various standards for issuing such permits, currently only Illinois and the District of Columbia prohibit the concealed carrying of weapons.
"The Second Amendment is a fundamental right to bear arms that should not be constrained by state boundary lines," said GOP Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
The bill's chief co-sponsor, Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., said states should consider concealed carry permits no differently from driver's licenses recognized by all states. He noted that many states already have reciprocity agreements with other states.
The legislation would "make it easier for law-abiding permit holders to know that they are simply in compliance with the law when they carry a firearm as they travel," he said.
Democratic opponents said the bill would constitute a "race to the bottom," with states that have strict requirements for issuing permits having to accept permits from states with far more lax standards.
"It's a situation where weaker state laws become the national law," said Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va. He noted that some states require training for permit holders, or deny permits to those under 21 or who sell drugs to minors, commit sex offenses or are involved in domestic violence.
According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the measure would allow states with tough requirements, such as New York and California, "to allow in concealed carry gun-toting people from states, such as Florida, which repeatedly have given dangerous people licenses to carry."
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., and Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., wrote President Barack Obama last week 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.
Democrats also chided Republicans for ignoring their dedication to states' rights. "For the Republican House majority that supposedly believes in states' rights, this bill is shocking," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.
There hasn't been much legislative action on firearms issues this year. A spending bill that the House is expected to vote on this week would bar the Justice Department from consolidating firearms sales records or maintaining information on people who have passed firearms background checks.
The chief sponsors of the concealed weapon measure, Stearns and Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., said their proposal would not create a federal licensing system but merely require states to honor one another's carry permits.
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. A state's ban on carrying concealed weapons in places such as bars, sporting events or state parks would apply to nonresidents as well as residents.
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.