WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican-led House is weighing a bill to make it easier for gun owners to legally carry concealed weapons across state lines, as the Trump administration says it is reviewing whether to ban "bump stock" devices that allow semi-automatic rifles to fire faster.
The acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said the agency expects to regulate bump-stock devices and could end up banning them. Thomas Brandon told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the ATF and Justice Department would not have initiated the review "if (banning them) wasn't a possibility at the end."
The Justice Department announced Tuesday it is reviewing whether weapons using bump stocks should be considered illegal machine guns under federal law. The devices allow semi-automatic rifles to fire nearly as fast as an automatic rifle.
The review comes after a Las Vegas gunman used the device during an October rampage that killed 58 people and wounded hundreds more.
A woman who survived the Las Vegas shooting said she remained by the side of one of the victims as he died, even though she had never met him.
Heather Gooze, a bartender at the country music festival where the shooting occurred, said she didn't want 23-year-old Jordan McIldoon to be a "John Doe," unnamed and alone.
"His death mattered, and I wanted him to be remembered," Gooze told the Senate Judiciary Committee. She held McIdoon's hand as he lay on a makeshift stretcher.
"Then Jordan's fingers stopped holding mine," she said. She later told McIldoon's girlfriend and his mother that he didn't make it.
The House was expected to vote Wednesday on the concealed-carry measure, the first gun legislation in Congress since the Las Vegas shooting and another in Texas that killed more than two dozen people.
The bill 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 lawsuits.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi accused Republicans of doing the bidding of the National Rifle Association, which calls the concealed-carry law its top legislative priority. Two months after two of the deadliest shootings in U.S. history, Republicans were "brazenly moving to hand the NRA the biggest item on its Christmas wish list," she said.
Pelosi and other Democrats criticized Republicans for combining a bill on background checks with the concealed-carry measure.
Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn., called the GOP maneuver "an insult to the folks in Sandy Hook," a school in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 first-graders and six educators were fatally shot in 2012.
Esty, whose district includes Newtown, said the background check measure would help ensure mental health and criminal records are loaded into a federal database, calling that "a good thing to do."
But she said Republicans were catering to the gun lobby by including the measure in a "horrible bill" on concealed-carry permits. The bill will overturn tough gun laws in states such as Connecticut and ensure that "the lowest common denominator would reign for the entire country," she said.
"It's unspeakable that this is Congress' response to the worst gun tragedies in American history," Esty said.
The Senate is considering a bipartisan bill 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.
The Air Force has acknowledged that the Texas shooter, Devin P. Kelley, should have had his name and domestic violence conviction submitted to the National Criminal Information Center database. The Air Force has discovered several dozen other such reporting omissions since the Nov. 5 shooting.
Brandon, the ATF director, acknowledged that the federal review may find the government doesn't have authority to ban bump stocks.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the Judiciary Committee's top ranking Democrat, said the uncertainty demands that Congress quickly approve legislation "to ban these dangerous devices."
Republicans pointed to the need to ensure the database is updated properly.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said the federal government "screwed up" in Kelley's case. "We need to stop criminals from getting guns," Cruz said.
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said Wednesday the Air Force is continuing to review the matter. She declined to say who might be punished for the failure and what the penalties might be.