WASHINGTON — The House has approved a Republican bill making it easier for gun owners to legally carry concealed weapons across state lines.
The House approved the bill Wednesday, 231-198.
The bill is a top priority of the National Rifle Association, which calls it an important step to allow gun owners to travel freely between states without worrying about conflicting state laws or civil suits.
Opponents, mostly Democrats, say the bill could endanger public safety by overriding state laws that place strict limits on guns.
Democratic Rep. Elizabeth Esty of Connecticut called it "unspeakable" that Congress would expand gun owners' rights after the recent shootings and other deadly attacks.
Hours before the bill was passed, Rep. Esty was among Connecticut Senator's Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, and other gun control advocates at a press conference to speak out against the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017.
"The House of Representatives failed to take a vote on gun violence prevention after the Sandy Hook tragedy, not a single vote," Newtown Action Alliance Chairman Po Murray said. "It's completely and utterly outrageous that the house is now going on the NRA number one priority bill that will make America less safe particularly when families impacted by the Las Vegas mass shooting and Sutherland Springs mass shooting just buried their loved ones less than 10 and a half weeks ago."
The concealed-carry legislation is combined with the so-called "Fix NICS" bill. It applies penalties to government agencies for not reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The bill was backed with bipartisan support following the deadly church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
"They’re combining these two pieces of legislation because they know the national concealed weapons bill is deeply unpopular, they know that they face political liability if they force this through and so they are trying to dress it up with a politically popular piece of legislation," Senator Murphy said.
Senator Murphy said he doesn't believe the legislation will pass in the senate.
The Connecticut Citizens Defense League President Scott Wilson released a statement:
"The point of National Reciprocity is to allow for law abiding citizens that have passed background checks and have already been issued permits to carry firearms outside their home state. Misinformation about minors, criminals or domestic abusers carrying guns in Connecticut is simply lies from the anti-gun side of the aisle. Minors cannot get a permit, criminals are prohibited and domestic abusers are also prohibited under the Lautenberg Act.
There is more than 40 states that either reciprocate or honor permits from outside states already. This has been commonplace for many years, and if reciprocity were somehow dangerous, lawmakers would have provided case examples, and they did not.
This boils down to a handful of states that do not want citizens protecting themselves, and would rather let them become a violent crime statistic. This is why a National Reciprocity bill was introduced by congress."
Speakers at Wednesday's press conference stood with 100 family members of the victims of gun violence from 20 states, including Connecticut.
"It is absolutely shameful, it is deplorable and unacceptable that nothing has happened since my sisters murder," Jane Dorety sister of Mary Sherlach the school psychologist killed in the Sandy Hook tragedy said. "We vote no, and I'm going to show up, and I'm going to continue to keep my promise for my sister Mary."
Hours after the press conference the group gathered at St. Mark's Episcopal Church, for the 5th Annual National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence.
Next week marks five years since the Sandy Hook Tragedy.
***Associated Press contributed to this report***