WASHINGTON – A House committee gave preliminary approval Wednesday to a bill that would let gun owners with concealed-carry permits cross state lines without prior approval, as long as they followed local concealed-carry laws.
The strict party-line vote by the House Judiciary Committee followed a full day of debate, during which Democrats called the bill federal overreach that panders to the gun lobby, while Republicans argued it is just a logical extension of the Second Amendment.
The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act now heads to the full House, where supporters are optimistic about its chances: The bill already has 213 co-sponsors, including every Republican member of the Arizona delegation.
Arizona is one of a handful of states that does not require a permit carry a concealed weapon for a person who is 21 or older and otherwise allowed to possess a firearm.
The National Rifle Association this week, in a post urging its members to call their elected officials, called the reciprocity act its “highest legislative priority in Congress.” It called the law “commonsense follow-up” to laws allowing concealed carry.
The bill’s supporters beat back 20 amendments in committee before voting 19-11 for the bill, with all Democrats on the committee opposed and all Republicans – including Arizona Reps. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, and Trent Franks, R-Glendale – voting in favor.
Democrats blasted the timing of the bill, coming just weeks after an Oct. 1 shooting in Las Vegas that killed 58 and wounded hundreds more, and the Nov. 5 shooting in a Sutherland Springs, Texas, church that left 25 worshipers dead and 20 wounded.
But Republicans countered that having the reciprocity bill might have helped in those shootings, by letting law-abiding people exercise their Second Amendment right to defend themselves before police arrived.
Rep. John Rutherford, R-Florida, a former Jacksonville sheriff, said people who legally carry concealed weapons are an asset to police officers, who respond quickly but sometimes not quick enough.
“In my experience with law enforcement, we want good people carrying guns,” Rutherford said.
“We want that ability for an individual to stop a mass shooting for example, before law enforcement responds. You have one individual, one good citizen armed with a concealed-carry weapon could at least pin down this active shooter.”
Both sides in the committee debate invoked the cases of former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was wounded in a 2011 Tucson attack that killed six and left 12 others injured, and the June attack on a Republican charity baseball practice in Virginia that injured six, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana.
But Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-California, responded to those who said concealed weapons might have helped at the Giffords shooting by saying she thinks Giffords, a Democrat, would have voted against the bill.
“Had she wanted to have a concealed weapon permit, under Arizona law she could have done so,” Lofgren said of Giffords. “She wouldn’t need this amendment to do that and for whatever reason she chose not to do that. And I think it may be because even though she was someone who could do skeet shooting, she also had recognition that gun violence was a danger in our country.”
Giffords, who now runs a gun-control advocacy group named for her, issued a statement shortly after Wednesday’s committee vote.
“With Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs still in shock over their communities’ losses, Congress is actually moving to weaken our public safety,” Giffords said in the statement. “It’s an extraordinary violation of the public’s trust. Elections have consequences. We will be watching – and acting.”
But Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, a bill co-sponsor who is not on the committee that voted Wednesday, said he has every intention on voting for the bill in the full House to help keep a promise to his constituents to “defend the Constitution.”
“There’s an old adage the National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre uses that states, ‘The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun,’” Gosar said in a statement released by his office, “and I believe that to be true with every fiber of my being.”