House Democrats and a handful of Republicans introduced a new bill that aims to “require a background check for every firearm sale” on Tuesday, the eighth anniversary of the shooting of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Giffords, a former congresswoman from Arizona, was shot in the head by a mass shooter during a 2011 meeting with constituents and has advocated for gun-violence prevention ever since. She was chosen to drop the bill, called the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, into the "hopper" where all bills start, as lawmakers introduced it. Despite its “bipartisan” nature, the legislation still faces an uphill battle to become law.
“Today we take a decisive step to help save lives right away,” said Rep. Mike Thompson, Democrat of California and the bill’s chief sponsor.
Right now, background checks, when used, prevent gun sales to fugitives, people deemed mentally unwell by the state, domestic abusers, people who renounce U.S. citizenship, convicted felons, convicted drug users, non-citizens, dishonorably discharged veterans, and most people with restraining orders.
The bill, however, would close the infamous “gun show loophole,” which allows people purchasing firearms via private sales, typically at gun shows, to forgo a background check. Under the legislation, anyone who’s not a licensed firearms dealer would not be able to exchange weapons, which would ensure that all sales run through the national criminal background check system — with a few exceptions.
The legislation does not apply to:
- law enforcement agencies or officers, armed private security, or military service members if they’re acting in official duty
- private gun exchanges between spouses, immediate family members, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, grandparents, and grandchildren
- temporary transfers to “prevent imminent death or great bodily harm,” according to the bill text
- temporary transfers in instances of hunting or fishing when the transferrer has no reason to believe the recipient will violate gun laws
Mike Thompson, a California Democrat who chairs the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi co-sponsored the legislation. Democrats have numerous times in the past attempted to push through background-check legislation. The closest they’ve come to passing the legislation was in the weeks following the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, that left 20 children and six educators dead. At the time, the bill stopped short of the 60 votes needed to prevent a Republican filibuster.
A few Republicans, including lead GOP sponsor Rep. Peter King of New York, Rep. Brian Mast of Florida, and Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, have also signed on to the legislation. Thompson has repeatedly attempted to codify universal background checks into law, a policy proposal almost universally supported by the American public, according to numerous polls.
Despite its immense support, the measure likely won’t pass. Republicans, who receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding from the National Rifle Association, control the Senate, where the bill will head next. And the NRA strongly opposes the expansion of background checks for firearm sales. President Donald Trump has also indicated that he doesn’t support the idea.
The attorney general, a position currently occupied by Trump-appointee Matt Whitaker, would be in charge of implementing and enforcing the law.
Cover image: Handguns are displayed at the Smith & Wesson booth at the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)