Gun Background Check Bill Passes House as Trump Threatens Veto

(Bloomberg) -- House Democrats passed a bill requiring background checks on all gun purchases -- including at gun shows and online -- but the first expansion of firearms-control laws in decades is destined to hit a roadblock with the GOP-led Senate and President Donald Trump.

The measure, which passed the House 240 to 190 on Wednesday, would require a licensed dealer to perform a background check for all firearm transfers between two people who are unrelated.

Similar legislation is unlikely to advance in the Senate, where Republican leaders have rejected similar bills seeking to close a gap in existing laws that allow gun purchases without background checks in private sales, such as at gun shows. The White House threatened a veto, saying the measure includes “burdensome requirements” and is incompatible with the Second Amendment’s “guarantee of an individual right to keep arms.”

Before the final vote Wednesday, two dozen moderate Democrats joined Republicans in adding an amendment requiring that immigration authorities be notified when an undocumented immigrant tries to buy a firearm. The surprise defection caught the Democratic leadership off guard and elicited cheers from Republicans in the chamber.

Democrats are trying to seize on increasing voter acceptance of some gun control proposals after mass shootings at schools, houses of worship and elsewhere. Outrage over congressional inaction and the political power of the National Rifle Association helped propel Democratic candidates to victory in November’s congressional elections, including Georgia’s Lucy McBath, whose 17-year-old son was shot and killed by a man who thought his music was too loud.

Voter Opinion

Voter opinion about gun control has shifted in recent years, with 97 percent of Americans -- including gun owners -- saying they support universal background checks, according to a Quinnipiac University National Poll this month.

Gun violence has also spilled into the political realm. Louisiana Republican Steve Scalise was shot and seriously wounded in 2017 by a supporter of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a 2016 contender for the Democratic presidential primary. Last week, a Coast Guard lieutenant who was identified as a white nationalist was arrested with a stockpile of weapons and a list of targets that included prominent Democrats and broadcast journalists.

Increasing partisan rancor and the fear of real-world violence stoked criticism of a recent article in the NRA’s magazine titled “Target Practice,” with a photo of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who has been a gun control advocate since she survived a politically motivated shooting in 2011. In the article, Chris Cox, the NRA’s executive director, vowed to “lead the fight” to prevent Wednesday’s bill from becoming law.

Scalise also opposes the House bill, H.R. 8, saying it wouldn’t have done anything to keep guns from the man who shot him or the shooters who targeted a school in Parkland, Florida, last year and a music concert in Las Vegas in 2017.

‘Really Sad’

"What’s really sad about this is that they hide behind some of these tragedies,” Scalise said in a Fox News interview. “Their bill would not have done anything to stop these tragedies.”

Scalise said the bill would make it hard to loan a gun to a hunting buddy or a friend who feels threatened and needs temporary self protection. The House bill says the background check requirement wouldn’t apply in such situations.

A similar Senate bill introduced by Democrat Chris Murphy, of Connecticut, has 42 Democratic cosponsors, but little chance of getting a floor vote under the Republican majority.

The House will also vote Thursday on H.R. 1112, a bill to prevent gun sales from automatically going forward if a background check isn’t finalized within three days. This would close the “Charleston loophole” -- a reference to the 2015 shooter in a Charleston church who bought a gun in spite of a drug felony conviction because of a records delay.

Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg LP, serves as a member of Everytown for Gun Safety’s advisory board and is a donor to the group. Everytown for Gun Safety advocates for universal background checks and other gun-control measures.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.