House OKs bill to ex­pand back­ground checks on all guns

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DAVID SHERFINSKI

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.

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