Democrats in the House are introducing new legislation that would close a loophole in current gun safety laws, in their first major gun control push under the new Biden administration.
The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021 would require a background check on all firearm sales. Under the current law, only licensed gun dealers must perform background checks for those looking to purchase a firearm. That excludes gun sales from unlicensed gun dealers, gun shows or online retailers.
Millions of guns in America are sold each year with no background checks at all, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a gun safety organization led by former Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
“Clearly, this is the most efficient and effective way to deal with gun violence,” Congressman Mike Thompson, the main sponsor of the bill, and chairman of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, told VICE News.
Thompson said Democrats chose to focus on background checks first because of its bipartisan support among legislators and the general public.
Around 93 percent of Democrats, and 82 percent of Republicans favor background checks for private gun sales, and sales at gun shows, according to the Pew Research Center. Even in the new legislation, though, there will be exceptions for “gifts to family members and transfers for hunting, target shooting, and self-defense.”
The universal background check legislation in the House has a bipartisan slate of authors: Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Lucy McBath (D-GA), Robin Kelly (D-IL), Fred Upton (R-MI), Christopher Smith (R-NJ), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA).
Thompson expects the bill to move quickly through the House, and get to the Senate by early April.
Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn also announced on Tuesday that he planned to reintroduce an enhanced background check bill that would close the so-called “Charleston loophole,” which currently allows a firearm sale to proceed if a background check is not completed in three days.
This is not the first time that the House has pushed for universal background checks. In 2019, the same legislation was a top priority for Democrats, and it passed the House with bipartisan support with a vote of 240-190. However, it died in the Senate where then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declined to bring the bill up for a vote.
This year, the bill has a better chance of getting a vote under Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, but the body’s rules require 60 votes for most pieces of legislation to pass.
“The Senate is always a tough hurdle to clear,” said Thompson, who added that he’s hopeful that there will be Republican senators who vote to support the measure.
If it passes both the House and Senate, Thompson is relying on President Joe Biden to swiftly sign this into law.
“He’s a good ally. He knows the issue. He’s a gun owner himself,” Thompson said. He and other members of the House task force hope to meet with President Biden “in the very near future” to discuss gun safety issues.
During his presidential bid in 2020, Biden touted his voting record on gun safety measures, like banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines. But those regulations, passed in 1994, have since expired. Top White House aides Susan Rice, domestic policy advisor, and Cedric Richmond, public engagement director, met virtually last month with outside groups to discuss “the ongoing public health crisis of gun violence in America.” Those kind of moves signal that gun legislation will be a priority for the new administration.
Congressmen and Senators are also dealing with their own internal struggles over gun control. A new batch of far-right members of congress, coupled with a new awareness of violence following the Capitol riot on January 6, has led to increased tensions on Capitol Hill over firearms.
“I suspect people always brought guns on the Floor in the past in violation of the House rules, but it’s a different twist this year after Jan 6th. New members have been very, very vocal about their guns,” he said.
One campaign ad by Georgia Republican freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene shows her holding a gun in front of a photo of “Squad” members Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib. Another freshman Republican, Rep. Lauren Boebert, declared in a viral video that she would carry her Glock to Congress. She obtained a concealed carry permit to carry one in DC.