WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives, now under Democratic control, passed the most sweeping gun-control measure that’s made it out of Congress in more than two decades when lawmakers voted Wednesday to require background checks on every gun purchase in America.
And while there’s almost no chance Majority Leader Mitch McConnell puts it up for a vote in the Senate, gun control advocates are cheering.
“It’s been a long time that we’ve been trying to close loopholes — so I think it’s a first step, but it’s a big deal,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) told VICE News after casting the historic vote.
Many of the freshman Democrats ran on gun control, and for some of them it’s personal, like Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.) who lost her son to gun violence.
“We’ve got a long way to go, most definitely, but this is a win. It’s a historic win,” McBath told VICE News while walking on the Capitol grounds.
Expanding background checks
The measure closes so-called “loopholes” in the current background check law, extending them to online purchases, firearms purchased at gun shows, and private gun sales, though close family members are exempted from that provision. Eight Republicans crossed the aisle and supported it, which McBath and others say is significant.
“This is one of the most commonsense beginnings to deterring the extremist culture that we have. We have a long way to go,” McBath said.
On Thursday the House is set to vote on a bill that expands the number of days licensed gun dealers must wait — from the current three days to 10 business days — for the federal background check to be completed before they can make their sale. And House Democrats are preparing a slew of other gun-control measures. But Republicans control the Senate and GOP leaders are showing little to no appetite to allow these measures to come to the floor for a vote.
The last time the Senate voted on gun legislation was when Democrats were in control back in 2013. But the measure that required background checks on commercial gun sales, like at gun shows, fell six votes short. One of that bill’s main sponsors, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), says he’s open to the House-passed bill, but he says their more moderate bill stands a better chance because it includes more exemptions, like for selling firearms to friends, and it expanded some interstate gun sales.
“We’re happy to look at it, but Manchin-Toomey is still the best piece of legislation, I think, that would make common sense that I think we’ve ever had, so I’d love to see if there’s any way to revitalize that,” Manchin told VICE News at the Capitol. “But we’ve got to get some Republicans to help us.”
And Republican senators are already dismissing the House background check bill as mere window dressing.
“It’s probably not going to solve the problem,” Senate Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told VICE News at the Capitol.
Graham plans to use his new perch as chair to hold hearings on mental health and what are called red-flag laws.
“I want to advance that cause — giving family and law enforcement officers the chance to petition the court for a protective order,” Graham said.
He also wants to beef up the current background check system.
“A lot of people are still not enrolled in the system that have exhibited – or been convicted of dangerous behavior – just try to beef up that part of the problem,” Graham said.
"I'm not wildly optimistic"
But Graham has no intention to take up a bill expanding the current background check system, which has the other main author of Manchin-Toomey doubting even its chances of coming up for a vote.
“I’m not wildly optimistic, to be honest,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) told reporters at the Capitol. “I’ve been at this awhile, as you know, but I haven’t given up. There are new members of the Republican conference, as you know, and maybe some of my colleagues are thinking about this a little bit differently, so it’s a work in progress.”
Still, the Democratic Party isn’t letting up on their efforts to enact stricter gun-control laws, and they say by keeping pressure up on the Senate they’ll be able to make a strong case to the American people in the next presidential election.
“You certainly saw what happened in the midterm elections – gun violence prevention was an issue in every campaign across the country,” Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), the background check bill’s main sponsor, told VICE News at a press conference outside the Capitol ahead of the vote. “I can’t see it getting anything but more intense going into 2020.”
Cover image: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi claps while New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks during a bill signing ceremony in New York, Monday, Feb. 25, 2019. Pelosi joined Cuomo as he signed a "red flag" bill, which attempts to prevent people who present a threat to themselves or others from purchasing or owning a gun. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)