WASHINGTON — The House on Wednesday easily passed a sweeping expansion of the right to carry concealed firearms virtually anywhere in the country, putting the fate of the National Rifle Association’s top legislative priority in the hands of a divided Senate.
To win over Democrats, House Republicans paired the measure, which would require all states to recognize any other state’s concealed-carry permit, with a more modest bipartisan fix meant to incentivize better reporting of legal and mental health records to the national background check system.
Together, the measures were the first gun-related bill to pass through the chamber since two of the deadliest mass shootings in the United States, in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas, in the fall.
But the background check measure was not enough to win over most Democrats, nor did it persuade law enforcement officials in some of the largest cities, including New York, who say the legislation would force locales with strict gun laws to bow to places with few or no gun restrictions.
The final House vote was 231-198, with six Democrats in favor of and 14 Republicans against the bill.
Passage in the Senate would almost certainly require 60 votes to overcome a Democratic filibuster, and although several Democrats have expressed support in the past, the climb for the NRA will be steep.
The Senate Judiciary Committee debated its own response to the shootings in Texas and Nevada Wednesday and appeared willing to move forward with a background check bill. But Senate leaders seemed disinclined to take up the concealed-carry measure anytime soon.
House Republicans and gun rights activists celebrated the concealed-carry vote anyway, hailing it as an important step toward victory in a decadeslong fight to extend concealed carry and simplify the rules for gun owners.
Chris W. Cox, the NRA’s executive director, praised the vote as a “watershed moment” for Second Amendment rights.
“This bill ensures that all law-abiding citizens in our great country can protect themselves in the manner they see fit without accidentally running afoul of the law,” he said.
Democrats said the measure would jeopardize public safety and set a dangerous precedent for overriding states’ rights to determine their own laws.
“The answer to our national problem of gun violence is not that we need more people carrying concealed firearms on our streets,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.
Laws regulating the carrying of concealed weapons have traditionally been left up to the states, creating a patchwork of varying standards and expectations. Some states, including New York and Maryland, as well as the District of Columbia require that permit applicants have live-fire experience and safety training, along with a clean criminal history. Others are more lenient, and a dozen states do not even require a permit.
The House bill would not force states to change their own laws, but it would treat a concealed-carry permit like a driver’s license, allowing individuals permitted by any one state to carry a concealed weapon with them into any other state.
It would also allow visitors to national parks, wildlife refuges and other federally administered lands to legally carry concealed guns. And it carves out a provision that would let qualified permit holders carry concealed guns in school zones.
Law enforcement officials from major cities like New York and Los Angeles, where strict gun control laws are aimed at handguns, warned that the bill would usurp states’ authority to set their own laws and effectively impose the lax laws of southern and rural states on densely populated cities.
Republicans in the Senate would need to pick up at least eight Democrats to pass the measure. And while several Democrats backed a similar measure when it was last voted on in 2013, the politics surrounding guns have shifted since then amid a spate of deadly mass shootings. The result has been a virtual deadlock as Democrats and Republicans cannot agree on how, if at all, to address gun violence.
Several Democrats who voted for the 2013 measure, including Sens. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Mark Warner of Virginia, Tom Udall of New Mexico, and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, said this week they would not do so this time around. Even Democrats perceived to be the most in favor of gun rights, including Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana, were cautious about staking out a position before they needed to.
Republican leaders, wary of seeing the measure once again fail on the floor of the Senate floor, were not rushing the concealed-weapon bill to that chamber. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican and a co-sponsor of both the concealed-carry and background check bills in the Senate, said Tuesday that he was “realistic enough” to realize that following the House’s lead by combining the two bills would also be pointless in his chamber.
“If you put them together, it makes it harder to do what we can do and can do now and need to do,” he said.
Senators from both parties view the background check bill as one of the hopeful — albeit narrow — areas of consensus. It was developed in response to the Sutherland Springs massacre, which came after the Air Force failed to send the gunman’s domestic violence conviction to the national database. If it had been, the gunman, Devin P. Kelley, would have been barred from buying a firearm from a licensed gun dealer. The measure incentivizes states and federal agencies to report criminal offenses and other information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
During the Senate Judiciary hearing, the acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also told senators that the agency expected to begin regulating — and could even ban — so-called bump stocks, which can turn semi-automatic rifles into weapons capable of firing long, deadly bursts. The Las Vegas shooter used such devices during his deadly rampage.
Democrats in the House denounced the decision by Republicans to combine the two bills and fretted that they could force shut a rare window of bipartisanship around guns. Mark Kelly, the retired astronaut and the husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was badly wounded in a 2011 shooting in Tucson, called the move “reprehensible.”
“The concealed-carry reciprocity is bad in a worse way than the fixing of the NICS system is a good thing,” said Kelly, who helps lead a gun control group bearing Giffords’ name. “They don’t cancel each other out.”