A key House committee on Wednesday approved a Republican bill to expand gun owners' rights, the first gun legislation since mass shootings in Las Vegas and Texas killed more than 80 people.
On a party-line vote, the Judiciary Committee backed a bill that would allow gun owners with a state-issued concealed carry permit to carry a handgun in any state that allows concealed weapons.
Republicans said the reciprocity measure would allow gun owners to travel freely between states without worrying about conflicting state laws or civil suits.
The bill was approved 19-11 and now goes to the House floor.
The Judiciary panel also approved legislation to strengthen the FBI database of prohibited gun buyers after the Air Force failed to report the criminal history of the gunman who slaughtered more than two dozen people at a Texas church.
The Air Force has acknowledged that the Texas shooter, Devin P. Kelley, should have had his name and domestic violence conviction submitted to the National Criminal Information Centre database. The Air Force has discovered "several dozen" other such reporting omissions since the November 5 shooting.
Democrats said the bill making it easier to carry concealed weapons across state lines, a top priority of the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups, would endanger public safety by overriding states with strict gun laws, forcing them to comply with states that have far looser laws on guns.
"You want to wipe out our state law" that places tight restrictions on who can carry a concealed weapon, Democratic Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland told Republicans.
The GOP bill "lowers everybody's standards to the lowest in the union," Raskin said. "It is the agenda of the NRA, but it should not be the agenda of Congress."
Representative Steve Cohen, D-Tennessee, said the bill would override his state's law barring people under 21 from getting concealed carry permits, while other Democrats noted that restrictions on drunken drivers and convicted stalkers could be overridden.
But Representative John Rutherford, R-Florida, said the bill would increase public safety by allowing more law-abiding citizens to carry guns, regardless of where they live or travel.
"I don't believe my right to defend myself should end at the state line," Rutherford said. "My constitutional rights do not end at the Florida line."
Rutherford and other Republicans said a "good guy with a gun" is often the best way to counter a gun-wielding criminal.