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A modest step on guns, threatened by House GOP

Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, spoke during a news conferece on Capitol Hill last week. She’s opposed to the bill pending before the House Judiciary Committee. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Rank-and-file Republicans and Democrats in Congress have come together to back sensible gun control legislation in the wake of the mass shootings in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas. Really, it’s true.

The bipartisan bill would strengthen the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, used to check the criminal histories of would-be gun buyers.

But don’t get too heartened by this outbreak of decency.

House Republican leaders, in a truly repugnant maneuver, have packaged the bill with another measure that would loosen restrictions on concealed weapons — hitching a really bad idea to a good one and, in the process, threatening the political prospects of the good one.


Even some fellow Republicans are dismayed by the move.

Over in the Senate, John Cornyn of Texas, who cosponsored an upper-chamber version of the criminal background check measure, says, “We have good bipartisan support” for a stand-alone bill. “It’s really important, and it will save lives,” he recently told the conservative Daily Caller website, “but if we start trying to add other things to it, then I think we risk not doing anything.”

The so-called Fix NICS legislation is modest, but important — reinforcing the requirement that federal agencies report all infractions to the FBI-run background check system and providing states with incentives to improve their own reporting.

NICS’s shortcomings came into focus after reports that the Air Force failed to report Devin Kelley’s domestic violence conviction to the background check system, allowing him to buy the military-style rifle he used in the Sutherland Springs church shooting.

Everyone ought to agree that tightening the system makes sense, and just about everyone does. Even the National Rifle Association has spoken positively about the legislation, seeing a chance to trumpet its call for enforcing current gun laws rather than passing new ones.


But now the background check legislation is in jeopardy, because House Republican leaders are tying it to a bill that Democrats sharply oppose — as they should.

The bill would make concealed-carry permits more like driver’s licenses — valid in every state no matter where they’re issued. That means permits doled out by states with weak gun laws, like Mississippi, would be valid in states with tougher laws, like Massachusetts.

It’s a race to the bottom, in other words. And the same could be said about the House leadership’s overall approach to gun legislation. Republicans of conscience must reject that approach. After all, it’s not just our faith in bipartisan good governance at stake.

With the next Devin Kelley seething somewhere, lives are at stake, too.