COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Many people in southern Colorado will be watching for the results of a vote in Congress on Wednesday that would grant expanded rights for people with concealed carry handgun permits.
The U.S. House of Representatives will decide on the Reciprocity Act, which, if passed, would allow permit owners in one state to legally carry their weapons in all 50 states.
Colorado currently has reciprocity agreements with 32 states; the remaining 16 states lacking similar agreements with Colorado are mostly on the East Coast and the West Coast.
Vermont is the only state with no permit requirement.
El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder said the proposed legislation would affect 44,000 permit holders there and more than 100,000 across Colorado.
"The way it is now, it's confusing," he said. "Some of the states also have constitutional carry, which means you don't need a permit in that home state. Unless you know the permit laws in every state, you could be in trouble in a state that doesn't recognize a Colorado permit."
Penalties in nonreciprocity states vary but range from a warning to a fine to a jail sentence.
"That's too harsh for someone who's a law-abiding citizen and just wants to have their gun for personal protection," Elder said.
"Those are hotbeds of gun control activity," Paul Paradis, owner of the Paradise Sales gun shop, said. "This bill doesn't control guns, as some people think, or keep guns away from criminals. It simply expands the rights of permit owners to defend themselves wherever they go."
Brian McCaleb, who recently applied for a permit in Colorado Springs, said he supports the bill.
"My reason for seeking a permit is because of a church security function I'm involved in," he said. "I want a gun for that specific purpose, not to carry it around with me all the time. But I understand some people want to do that, and it's good to give them that flexibility."
The bill also would allow permit owners to carry weapons into national parks and other federally owned lands for the first time.
Another provision of the bill would strengthen federal background checks for permit applicants.
"I think we do need stronger checks," Elder said. "Sometimes things get missed and people who shouldn't have guns get them and can cause a lot of damage."
Paradis is ambivalent about expanded checks.
"I don't mind them," he said. "But background checks have proven to be meaningless. They just create more paperwork and expense for gun owners, and have never stopped a criminal from getting a gun. What will stop criminals is allowing more gun owners to protect themselves in more places."
The bill has support from the National Rifle Association, other gun lobbyists and a majority of Republicans in Congress, but is opposed by many Democrats, gun control advocates and big-city sheriffs and police chiefs.
"I like the bill," Elder said. "I don't see why anyone in law enforcement would be against it. It doesn't take away a state's rights. It just expands rights that already exist for law-abiding citizens. It's the people who try to get guns without permits that we should be concerned about."
Attorneys general in 23 states sent a letter last week to House leadership, expressing support for the bill; Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman sent a similar letter.
Political analysts expect the bill to pass in the House and to face stronger opposition in the Senate.