The House on Wednesday passed a bill that allows gun owners to carry concealed weapons across state lines.
The bill, which the National Rifle Association has called its "highest legislative priority," passed 231 to 198.
But the fate of the bill remains uncertain. It was linked this week with legislation to improve the national background-check system for gun purchases, a measure that has rare bipartisan consensus. House Democrats accused Republicans of "trickery" and "sabotage" in tying the two bills together.
In the Senate, Democrats have said the combination bill is a non-starter, and senior Republicans have said that pairing the bills could torpedo them both.
Proponents of the bill said it will make it easier for gun owners to exercise their rights, because state concealed-carry permits are currently not valid across state lines. Opponents said it will imperil public safety and a state's right to determine who is allowed to carry a concealed weapon.
"This vote marks a watershed moment for Second Amendment rights," said Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action. He called the bill the "culmination of a 30-year movement recognizing the right of all law-abiding Americans to defend themselves, and their loved ones, including when they cross state lines."
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), said: "For the millions of law-abiding citizens who lawfully carry concealed to protect themselves, for conservatives who want to strengthen our Second Amendment rights, and for the overwhelming majority of Americans who support concealed carry reciprocity, Christmas came early."
Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat who left the House after becoming a victim of gun violence in her home state of Arizona and started a gun-control group, said that "Congress has failed the American people" and moved toward making the country less safe.
"Several years after being shot in the head, I've learned a lot — how to walk again, how to talk again, and how to start each day ready to change the world," she said in a statement. "But today, I'm furious. I'm angry that with shootings on the rise, the response from politicians is to sell out to the gun lobby and weaken our public safety laws. . . . I'm angry that when this country is begging for courage from our leaders, they are responding with cowardice."
The bill would treat concealed-carry permits like driver's licenses, allowing them to be applicable nationwide. A person with a concealed-carry permit and a photo identification would be able to have a concealed weapon in any state that allows them, regardless of a state's permitting restrictions.
Each state determines the criteria for who receives a concealed-carry license. Some states, including New York and Maryland, have strict requirements, including training. Others have standards that are more lax. Twelve states do not require permits.
The bill also allows visitors to national parks and other federally administered lands to carry concealed firearms. It would also let certain permit holders — off-duty or retired law enforcement officers — to carry concealed weapons in school zones.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, whose state has some of the nation's strictest gun laws, said the legislation would risk the lives of people and law enforcement officers.
"This lowest-common-denominator approach would undermine states' basic responsibility to protect our communities — including by determining who may carry a concealed, loaded gun within our borders," he said in a statement.