House Passes Bill Widening Firearm Background Checks

Rep. Mike Thompson, pauses while speaking during a Jan. 8, 2019, news conference to announce the introduction of bipartisan legislation that would expand background checks for sales and transfers of firearms. A California Democrat, Thompson is chairman of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON (CN) – The House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday that would expand background-check requirements for firearm sales, the first major action on guns since Democrats took control of the chamber.

H.R. 8, otherwise known as the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, requires that sales from private, unlicensed sellers face scrutiny. Because current background-check requirements apply only to licensed dealers, no check occurs for sales conducted online or at gun shows.

While the bill exempts hunters and target shooters, while including a carve-out for gifts to family members  — the White House has threatened to veto the legislation, calling its requirements “burdensome.”

“The extensive regulation required by H.R. 8 is incompatible with the Second Amendment’s guarantee of an individual right to keep arms,” the White House said in a statement of administration policy.

H.R. 8 is the first of several gun-control initiatives Democrats plan to consider this Congress; it cleared the House in a 240-190 vote on Wednesday afternoon.

Democrats have hailed the measure as the most significant action to curtail gun violence in years and the fulfillment of a promise to voters eager for gun control in the wake of recent mass shootings.

“We’ve waited too long to close loopholes that let people easily avoid background checks through private sales,” said Representative Ted Deutch, a Democrat who represents Parkland, Florida, the site of the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“I’ve cried with too many survivors, and attended too many funerals,” 

Deutch continued, speaking Wednesday on the House floor. “I’ve marched with too many student activists, and I have bowed my head through too many moments of silence.” 

After the bill passed, Democrats stood and applauded along with gun-control advocates who watched the vote from the gallery.

Representative Mike Thompson, a California Democrat considered a key sponsor of the bill, was one of many lawmakers wearing an orange tie today, the color used by the movement against gun violence.

“For six-and-a-half years, we had no cooperation from the past majority,” Thompson said. “We couldn’t get a hearing on the bill. We couldn’t get a vote. Today, we’re here to tell you it’s a new day. With this majority, we have made a commitment to address the issue of gun violence.”

Republicans have said the bill would fall disproportionately on gun owners who follow the law while doing little to stop people who want to use guns to harm others. They said the bill’s exemptions are vague and that its requirements would put onerous restrictions on hunters and gun enthusiasts.

Among Democratic critics, Representative Doug Collins of Georgia said the background checks would be ineffective without a national registry for guns, which it does not create.

“Madame Speaker, I will remind this House one more time that what makes you feel good does not always heal you,” Collins said on the House floor Wednesday.

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