WASHINGTON â€” The HouseÂ is expected to take up gun legislation this week to expand concealed carry rights, the National Rifle Associationâ€™s top legislative priority, as gun-control advocates hold vigils across the country for victims of gun violence.
The move comes a week before the fifth anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that killed 26 people in Newtown, Conn., and follows two of the deadliest shootings in modern U.S. history. In October, a gunman killed 58 people and wounded more than 500 in Las Vegas. A month later, another gunman opened fire in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing 25 people including a pregnant woman whose unborn baby also died.
â€œThey are being insensitive and basically irresponsible for moving forward with the NRAâ€™s No. 1Â bill,â€ said Po Murray, chair of the Newtown Action Alliance. â€œWeâ€™re not shocked and weâ€™re not surprised by their actions but weâ€™re pretty outraged.â€
The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act would require each state to recognize concealed carry permits from every other state â€” as they would a driverâ€™s license â€” regardless of different permitting standards. Residents of states that don’t require permits to carry a concealed weapon would be able to carry their weapons in other states that allow concealed carry, as long as they abide by local laws.
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The NRA says the bill would eliminate a confusing patchwork of state concealed-carry laws and reciprocity agreements that can cause a law-abiding gun owner to unwittingly break the law while traveling out of state. Gun control advocates object to the bill on its merits, saying it endangers public safety and makes it harder for police to enforce gun laws by forcing states with strong permitting standards to honor permits from states with weaker ones.
But Murray said itâ€™s also â€œegregiousâ€ that the bill could get a floor vote as early as Wednesday, the day of the fifth annual National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence in Washington, D.C. Murray said the national vigil is the anchor for 230 other local vigils in 40 states during December. It commemorates the Dec. 14, 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, along with honoring 500,000 Americans killed or injured by guns since then.
The Newtown Action Alliance and other gun-control groups hosting the vigil have been planning for it since last yearâ€™s ended, Murray said. All members of Congress received an emailed invitation months ago, followed up by a printed invitation on Tuesday, she said.
â€œThey are certainly aware that we are holding this vigil,â€ she said.
A spokesmanÂ for House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-N.C., who sets the floor schedule, did not respond to a request for comment.Â
Tatum Gibson, a spokeswoman for the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., said in a statement, “We have nothing but heartache and compassion for the victims of Sandy Hook, but concealed carry reciprocity has nothing to do with this tragedy and the congressman had Sandy Hook in mind when he helped pass the largest mental health reform in a generation last year.”
The House concealed carry bill is expected to be combined with another measure to boost authorities’ reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, NICS. The bill, called â€œFix NICS,â€ is less controversial and came as a response to the Texas shooting, which might have been prevented if authorities had reported the gunmanâ€™s violent history.
Other measures proposed by gun-control advocates in the wake of the shootings, including the expansion of background checks or a ban on rapid-fire devices such as “bump stocks,” remain stalled. However, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on firearm accessory regulation and enforcement of federal and state reporting to NICS.
Concealed carry is expected to easily pass the House but it likely would have a tougher time in the Senate, where it would need Democratic votes to pass.
Senate Majority Whip Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, lead sponsor of both the concealed carry and Fix NICS Senate bills, told reporters on Wednesday that it would be a â€œmistakeâ€ to combine the two measures, according to The Daily Caller.
â€œWe have good bipartisan support for that,â€ he said of the Fix NICS bill. â€œItâ€™s really important and it will save lives, but if we start trying to add other things to it, then I think we risk not doing anything which has sort of been the fate of a lot of the legislation weâ€™ve tried in the past. So, Iâ€™d like to do the fix NICS and then we can move on from there.â€
Lucy McBath, faith and outreach leader for Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action, said concealed carry is a â€œpoison pillâ€ for Fix NICS.
â€œYouâ€™re going to doom the good part of the proposal because youâ€™re attaching it to something thatâ€™s so egregious,â€ said McBath, whose son Jordan Davis was shot and killed in 2012 during an argument over loud music at a gas station. â€œWe canâ€™t overlook the dangerous part of this proposal.â€