House OKs bill to expand background checks on all guns
The Democrat-led House broke a yearslong stalemate over gun control legislation last week, approving a bill to expand background checks to nearly all firearms sales and transfers.
The measure is unlikely to survive the Senate, but House Democrats said at least they made good on vows to aggressively push the issue in the wake of a spate of high-profile mass shootings.
“Can we guarantee that this will work to make every person safe? It cannot. It will not,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said in a floor speech. “But I rise in strong support of doing something, and in this case doing something that 90 percent of America supports.”
The legislation passed 240-190, with eight Republicans voting yes and two Democrats voting no.
Republicans said that while well-intentioned, the legislation wouldn’t have prevented recent massacres where shooters had legally acquired their firearms or where the National Instant Criminal Background Check System — NICS — failed to flag someone.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, who survived a shooting at a congressional baseball practice in June 2017, said Democrats weren’t interested in hearing his testimony on the issue.
“Every day on average in this country, guns are used by good people to defend themselves against bad people, and it’s going to make it harder for them to get access to these guns,” the Louisiana Republican said.
Under current law, a dozen categories of people, ranging from those with criminal convictions to those with mental health problems to illegal immigrants, are barred from buying firearms.
But only federally licensed gun dealers are required to run potential buyers through NICS. Democrats said felons and terrorists are potentially slipping through the cracks by buying guns online and at private gun shows.
Republicans did score a victory during the vote, tacking on an amendment requiring NICS to notify the Department of Homeland Security any time an illegal immigrant tries to buy a gun. Deportation officers would then be able to decide whether to try to pick the person up.
Illegal immigrants attempted to buy guns more than 3,000 times both in 2016 and 2017.
Democratic leaders opposed the amendment, complaining the illegal immigration aspect was an attempt to “muck this up with a gimmick.”
But enough Democrats joined with Republicans to approve the notifications.
Still, gun control advocates hailed the broader vote as historic, after they had been stymied on major federal gun legislation since the 1990s.
Congress voted to set up NICS in 1993 and passed a ban on military-style “assault” weapons in 1994. That ban lapsed a decade later, though the background checks have remained in effect and draw strong bipartisan support in public polls.
“Americans finally have a majority in the House of Representatives that is listening to them,” said former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was gravely wounded at a constituent event in January 2011 and has since become a prominent advocate of gun control.