The House passed a bill Dec. 6 that would enable gun owners to carry concealed weapons across state lines.
The bill was passed by 231-198, with six Democrats voting yes and 14 Republicans voting no, the Associated Press reported.
Republicans sought to win over Democrats by agreeing to include a provision designed to improve reporting to the national background check system. The gunman who carried out the Sutherland Springs, Texas, shooting should have been brought to the attention of the background check system because he had a domestic violence conviction. Had this been done, he would not have been able to purchase a weapon from a licensed gun dealer.
Democratic Rep. Elizabeth Esty said the concealed-carry measure would "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 tragedy in American history," AP reported.
Esty was referring to the mass shooting in Las Vegas, which claimed the lives of 59 people.
"I'm angry that when this country is begging for courage from our leaders, they are responding with cowardice," said former Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in a statement. Giffords was shot at an event in 2011.
By contrast, the National Rifle Association celebrated the decision. The bill "is 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," said Chris Cox, the NRA's executive director.
During the debate, Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte argued that the bill would make Americans safer. He cited the example of an Uber driver in Chicago who was able to fire at a gunman shooting into a crowd.
"Without this citizen's quick thinking and actions, who knows how many could have fallen to this shooter?" asked Goodlatte.
If the concealed carry bill is adopted by the Senate, states with strict gun laws would be forced to accept a concealed-carry permit from any state. The New York Times reported that this would mean more lax laws from rural and southern states being applied in urban areas such as New York and Los Angeles.
The measure will need 60 votes to pass in the Senate, which is considered highly unlikely even though a few Democrats have indicated they could support it.
Sen. John Cornyn, who is sponsoring the concealed carry and background check bills in the Senate, declared that he would not tie the two bills together like the House did.
"If you put them together, it makes it harder to do what we can do and can do now and need to do," Cornyn told the New York Times.