The House of Representatives passed legislation Wednesday that would allow individuals with concealed carry permits possess a firearm in any state with similar laws.
The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act passed by a 231-198 vote. It was supported by most Republicans and a half-dozen Democrats. A vast majority of Democrats and 14 Republicans opposed the measure.
The bill's main provision allows gun owners to carry concealed firearms across state lines if they are eligible to possess the weapons under federal law, have a valid photo identification and a valid concealed carry permit issued by their home state.
U.S. Rep. John Katko, an original cosponsor of the concealed-carry gun bill, compared it to an individual who has a driver's license. Once they have a driver's license, they are able to drive in another state while abiding by the laws in that state.
"The same thing holds true here," he said.
A federal ban on possessing firearms in school zones would not apply to those with concealed carry permits. And they may carry concealed handguns on federal lands that are open to the public, according to a summary of the bill.
The National Rifle Association, the leading gun rights group, supported the legislation. After the bill's passage, the group called the achievement "the most far-reaching expansion of self-defense rights in modern American history."
"This vote marks a watershed moment for Second Amendment rights," said Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action."
However, critics of the bill question how it would impact states' rights and predicted it would lead to an uptick in violent crime.
Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was severely wounded in 2011, slammed the House vote.
"Congress has failed the American people," she said.
The bill also includes a provision supporters say would help to prevent tragedies like the massacre at a Texas church in November. The gunman who killed 26 people in that mass shooting had a prior domestic violence conviction while serving in the Air Force. However, the Air Force failed to enter the conviction in a federal crime database.
If the Air Force properly reported the conviction, the shooter would have been prevented from legally purchasing guns.
The legislation seeks to address the problem by encouraging federal government agencies and states to improve reporting of criminal offenses. The goal is to ensure the crime database has the most up-to-date information available.
"If you're a felon in the United States, you're not allowed to possess a firearm," Katko, R-Camillus, said. "And if someone is a felon, we damn well better know about it when the guy goes to the counter to buy a gun because we'll make sure it keeps it out of his hands."
Despite the strong support for the bill in the House, its fate in the Senate is unclear. Republicans hold a slim majority in the Senate and most Democrats oppose expanding concealed-carry rights.
There is bipartisan support for boosting the federal crime database to ensure those with felony convictions can't buy guns. A standalone Senate bill sponsored by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, would address the criminal database concerns. Cornyn also backs concealed-carry reciprocity, but he introduced that as a separate bill.