House passes firearm background check bill, in first gun control victory in more than two decades
For the first time in more than two decades, the U.S. House on Wednesday passed new gun control legislation that, if signed into law, will require background checks on all commercial gun sales, including those sold online and at gun shows.
The bipartisan bill advanced by a vote of 240-190, with eight Republicans joining Democrats to vote in favor of the legislation. It is the first gun control measure to pass a vote in the House since the 1994 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act.
Prior to the final vote, Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) called for a “motion to recommit” to add a provision to the bill that would require Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be notified when an undocumented immigrant tries to buy a gun. That amendment was approved by voice vote.
A vote has been scheduled on a second bill which, if approved, would extend the waiting period for firearms dealers to receive a response from the background check system before they can sell a gun.
The bill approved on Wednesday had five Republican co-sponsors, including Rep. Peter King (R-NY), who in past years tried unsuccessfully to push the measure forward while his party controlled the House.
But things are different now. Democrats control the chamber, and months of activism following last year’s school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, has motivated lawmakers to act.
“To give them credit, the Democrats have long supported it. And, I think, just these series of massacres building up and the fact that the average American, even people who have guns, who support guns, they see this as being a reasonable measure,” King told NBC News. “All these scare tactics that are out there about a gun registry, the government’s going to take away your guns, it just isn’t true.”
He added that the Democratic majority in the House has “really given [the bill] momentum. Hate to admit that, but that’s the reality.”
During floor debate on Wednesday, Republicans argued that the background check bill goes too far in penalizing “law-abiding citizens” for loaning their guns to friends.
“These are people who use guns to defend themselves,” said Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), who was injured himself in a mass shooting during a Congressional baseball game in 2017.
An amendment by Rep. Kendra Horn (D-OK), sought to address that issue by creating an exception for people who face risks of domestic violence, dating partner violence, sexual assault, stalking, and domestic abuse. It was adopted by a vote of 310-119.
“The underlying bill … already creates an exception to the background check requirement when there is a temporary weapon transfer if the transferee is at imminent risk of death or great bodily harm,” Horn said. “But our amendment is meant to make it crystal clear and explicit that this exception applies when the transferees are protecting themselves from an abuser.”
Other Republicans argued that the bill wouldn’t stop all mass shootings and wouldn’t stop criminals from obtaining weapons, since individuals who seek to commit crimes often obtain guns through unlawful means.
“Countless speakers from the other side of the aisle said this wouldn’t have stopped this crime, this wouldn’t have stopped this mass shooting, this wouldn’t have stopped that mass shooting,” said Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), one of the bill’s co-sponsors. “Well, my friends, if that’s your standard, if you will only support a bill that will stop every mass shooting, that will stop every death by a firearm, that means you want to get rid of all guns and no one on this side of the aisle is saying that.”
The vote followed the first House hearing on gun control in eight years, which took place earlier this month, and which resulted in a tense standoff between Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and the father of a Parkland school shooting victim, Manuel Oliver.
Gaetz argued that violence by undocumented immigrants was a more pressing issue than gun control. Oliver interrupted the lawmaker, although it is unclear what he said. Gaetz then sought to have Oliver removed from the hearing room.
.@Repmattgaetz is interrupted by Manuel Oliver, father of Majory Stoneman Douglas shooting victim Joaquin "Guac" Oliver. Parliamentary inquiries follow on reprimanding members for being untruthful and audience member disruptions. pic.twitter.com/gIfZJgY99Y
— CSPAN (@cspan) February 6, 2019
The bill that will be considered on Thursday would do away with the “Charleston loophole,” a reference to the mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015, in which white supremacist Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The loophole allows a gun to be sold if a background check isn’t finished within three days. In Roof’s case, if the FBI had cleared the background check, the sale would have been blocked due to his past history of drug possession.
According to FBI data, in 2017, more than 6,000 guns were sold to people with criminal histories or other factors that should have prevented them from buying a gun had the FBI completed the background checks before the three-day deadline. That number is a significant increase from 2016, which saw the sale of more than 4,100 guns to such people.
A recent investigation by ThinkProgress found that, in 2017, the FBI was unable to complete 310,232 gun background checks within the three-day deadline.
Though the odds seem stacked against them, gun control advocates are hopeful that the Senate will consider one or both of the bills. Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts told ThinkProgress that based on conversations her organization has had with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), who co-sponsored a gun control proposal following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, it is possible that the Senate could get 60 votes on the background check measure. And although there is concern that President Donald Trump could veto the measures, Watts said it’s too soon to make such predictions.
“We haven’t even begun trying to convince [Trump] yet. And he hasn’t vetoed anything yet,” she said. “So we continue to have hope.”
Max Samis, press secretary for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, told ThinkProgress in an email that, “We have momentum and public support on our side, and we are committed to seeing these bills all the way through to becoming law.”
Until then, the vote alone feels like an “incredible victory,” Watts said. “That is really a testament to our hard work.”