WASHINGTON (AP) — A key House committee moved forward Wednesday on a Republican bill to expand gun owners' rights — the first gun legislation since mass shootings in Las Vegas and Texas killed more than 80 people.
The Judiciary Committee was set to vote on a bill that would allow gun owners with a state-issued concealed carry permit to carry a handgun in any state that allows concealed weapons. Republicans said the reciprocity measure would allow gun owners to travel freely between states without worrying about conflicting state laws or civil suits.
Democrats said the bill would endanger public safety by overriding states with strict gun laws, forcing them to comply with states that have far looser laws on guns.
"You want to wipe out our state law" that places tight restrictions on who can carry a concealed weapon, Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland told Republicans.
The GOP bill "lowers everybody's standards to the lowest in the union," Raskin said. "It is the agenda of the (National Rifle Association), but it should not be the agenda of Congress."
But Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla., said the bill would increase public safety by allowing more law-abiding citizens to carry guns, regardless of where they live or travel.
"I don't believe my right to defend myself should end at the state line," Rutherford said. "My constitutional rights do not end at the Florida line."
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., scoffed at Rutherford's comment that a "good guy with a gun" is the best way to counter a criminal with a gun.
"That is a preposterous statement," she said. "Let's be honest: We are endangering public safety to cozy up to one of the biggest interest groups in the U.S. — the NRA."
Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia said Democrats were misconstruing the legislation.
"This bill will not arm criminals," he said. "Nothing in this bill would allow (a convicted criminal) to purchase or possess a firearm, let alone carry one in a concealed fashion."
Numerous police and law enforcement groups oppose the bill, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Major Cities Chiefs Association and the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.
The Judiciary panel also was expected to consider legislation to strengthen the FBI database of prohibited gun buyers after the Air Force failed to report the criminal history of the gunman who slaughtered more than two dozen people at a Texas church.
Despite calls by Democrats for tighter gun control, Congress has taken no steps on guns in the weeks following the Oct. 1 shooting in Las Vegas that killed 58 people and the Nov. 5 shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
A bid to ban the "bump stock" device that the Las Vegas shooter used to fire a semi-automatic rifle at near-automatic rates fizzled, even as lawmakers from both parties expressed openness to the idea in the days following the shooting.