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House OKs bill expanding rights of gun owners
WASHINGTON -- Republicans passed a bill through the House on Wednesday that would make it easier for gun owners to legally carry concealed weapons across state lines, the first significant action on guns in Congress since mass shootings in Nevada and Texas killed more than 80 people.
The House approved the bill, 231-198, largely along party lines. Six Democrats voted "yes," while 14 Republicans voted "no."
The measure would allow gun owners with a state-issued concealed-carry permit to carry a handgun in any state that allows concealed weapons. It now goes to the Senate.
Republicans said the reciprocity measure, a top priority of the National Rifle Association, would allow gun owners to travel freely between states without worrying about conflicting state laws or civil suits.
Opponents, mostly Democrats, said the bill could endanger public safety by overriding state laws that place strict limits on guns.
Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn., called the bill an attempt to undermine states' rights, "hamstring law enforcement and allow dangerous criminals to walk around with hidden guns anywhere and at any time. It's unspeakable that this is Congress' response to the worst gun tragedies in American history."
Esty represents Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 first-graders and six educators were fatally shot in 2012.
Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who was shot in the head in 2011, denounced the House action.
"I'm angry that when this country is begging for courage from our leaders, they are responding with cowardice," she said in a statement.
The House vote came as the acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said his agency expects to regulate bump-stock devices and could end up banning them. Thomas Brandon told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday 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 this week it is reviewing whether weapons using bump stocks should be considered illegal machine guns under federal law. The review comes after a Las Vegas gunman used the device during an October rampage killed 58 people and wounded hundreds more.
Debate on the House bill became heated at times.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., said his state forces gun owners to meet an array of conditions before obtaining a concealed-carry permit -- in contrast to some states where "if you're 21 and have a pulse" you can get a gun permit.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said those who carry concealed handguns not only are better prepared to defend themselves, but can help others.