House passes bills to expand background checks for gun sales

Politics

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., holds a news conference on passage of gun violence prevention legislation, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, March 11, 2021, as Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, left, and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., look on. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved a pair of gun control bills as Democrats, emboldened by slim majorities in both chambers of Congress, push ahead in hopes of enacting new laws after years of failed attempts.

The first measure, which passed the Democratic-led House 227-203, would close a long-standing loophole in gun laws by expanding background checks to those purchasing weapons over the internet, at gun shows and through certain private transactions. Eight Republicans joined the Democrats in backing the bill.

The second bill, passed 219-210 with only two Republicans supporting it, would give authorities 10 business days for federal background checks to be completed before a gun sale can be licensed. Currently, such sales can proceed if the government cannot complete complicated background checks of prospective buyers within three days.

President Joe Biden is a supporter of expanded gun control measures. The legislation may face a tougher battle in the Senate, where Biden’s fellow Democrats hold the slimmest of majorities and would need significant bipartisan support to pass.

While the House bills have Republican cosponsors and won a handful of GOP votes, most Republicans voted against them. It is unclear whether Senate Democrats could find deep enough support among Republicans to pass new gun control legislation in a 50-50 Senate, as they would need 60 votes.

During the floor debate, Republicans opposing the bills argued that the background checks would not stop most mass shootings nor make American streets safer and would mistakenly prevent some lawful gun owners from purchasing firearms enshrined in the Constitution’s Second Amendment.

The House Judiciary Committee’s senior Republican, Jim Jordan, wrote on Twitter that House Democrats were “making it harder for law-abiding citizens to buy a gun.”

Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Scott Perry said the bill would lead to more crime because there would be “less people out there defending themselves.”

Democratic Rep. Mike Thompson said 30 people are killed by gun violence daily in the United States, with that number growing to 100 if suicides and accidental deaths involving firearms are counted. At the same time, Thompson said, 170 felons and 50 domestic abusers are stopped from buying a gun every day.

“It only makes sense that if you expand it you’ll stop even more felons, more domestic abusers,” Thompson said.

Many Democrats want to go further by banning sales of some high-capacity, military-style rifles that can fire ammunition rapidly.

The Senate’s longstanding filibuster rule makes it so most legislation requires 60 votes to proceed in the 100-seat chamber rather than a simple majority, and Republicans could use the maneuver to try to block gun control measures.

“Maybe we’ll get the votes,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. “And if we don’t, we’ll come together as a caucus and figure it out how we are going to get this done. But we have to get it done.”

Schumer hinted at altering or ending the filibuster rule. But moderate Democrat West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin has previously stressed that he wants to keep the procedural hurdle (filibuster), saying major legislation should always have significant input from the minority party.

Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Manchin have worked together for years to find compromise on background checks but have yet to propose anything that will pass.

In a statement, a spokesman for Toomey said the senator remains supportive of a previous bipartisan proposal with Manchin but believes “progress is only possible on this issue if the measure in question is narrow and protects the rights of law-abiding gun owners.”

The spokesman, Steve Kelly, did not say whether the House bills meet that standard.

A bipartisan gun control bill in 2013 — proposed after a mass shooting that killed 20 children and six educators at a Connecticut elementary school, Sandy Hook — failed on a vote of 54-46 in the Senate, short of the needed 60 votes.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has been working on gun legislation with Schumer since the 1990s when they were in the House together, said she and her colleagues have promised survivors of shootings and family members of those who have died that “we are not going away” until the background checks legislation passes.

“The gun violence crisis in America is a challenge to the conscience of our country – one that demands that we act,” Pelosi said during floor debate on the bills Wednesday. “These solutions will save lives.”

During a news conference before the gun control votes, a tearful Representative Lucy McBath, who lost her son to gun violence, said: “No one deserves the kind of pain and anguish that people are suffering.”

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this article: All reporting by Richard Cowan/Reuters and Mary Clare Jalonick/AP.

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