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House Dems make gun control action an early priority

House Democrats unveiled legislation on Tuesday to require universal background checks for gun purchases as one of their first moves in a newly empowered majority.

The bill’s introduction came eight years to the day after the deadly shooting rampage that nearly killed former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who since then has become one of the nation’s most prominent advocates for tougher gun laws.

Democrats touted the bill as a significant shift from eight years of GOP rule in the House, a period when the nation experienced the most deadly incidents of gun violence in its history but saw zero action on the issue from the lower chamber.

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The new background check bill is designated “H.R. 8” in an implicit rebuke of House Republicans.

“So many times after we've had a tragedy... we would vote on the floor and have a moment of silence. And that's it. Silence, no action,”Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiNew Mexico Democrat Stansbury sworn into Haaland's old seat Greene apologizes for comparing vaccine rules to Holocaust Overnight Health Care: Biden pleads for more people to get vaccinated | Harris highlights COVID-19 vaccination safety | Novavax COVID-19 vaccine shown highly effective in trial MORE (D-Calif.) said in discussing the new bill.

Now, Pelosi said, “we say, enough is enough.”

While its all-but-certain passage in the House would mark the first major congressional action on gun control in years, the bill is unlikely to pass the GOP-controlled Senate and become law.

The universal background checks measure also represents the lowest-hanging fruit for gun reform advocates, who have pushed for additional and more controversial gun control measures, like banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

“Today we're just celebrating background checks,” said Charlie Mirsky, 18, a lobbyist for March for Our Lives, the group founded by survivors of last year’s shooting at a Parkland, Fla. high school. But, he added, “Americans across the country should be expecting more in the next couple months.”

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Still, the decision by Democratic leaders to make gun control a priority in the new House majority’s first days in office shows how much the party has changed on the issue.

In 2007, House Democrats spent the first days of their majority voting on bills to raise the minimum wage; adopt national security proposals from the 9/11 Commission; offer student loan relief; grant funding for stem cell research; and lower prescription drug costs.

Gun control was viewed as a third rail that could put vulnerable lawmakers in a tough spot. Indeed, when some Democrats requested a hearing on background checks in 2010, they were refused.

But legislation to expand background checks for gun sales now has virtually universal backing in the Democratic Caucus, even among more moderate members. That shift is a reflection of overwhelming public support for the issue, which has only grown as a string of deadly mass shootings has grabbed headlines in recent years, sparked a national outcry and created a new army of advocates clamoring for tougher gun restrictions, including students affected by mass shootings at schools.

Some newly elected Democrats in competitive districts even actively ran on gun control, like Rep. Lucy McBathLucia (Lucy) Kay McBathGun violence: Save the thoughts and prayers, it's time for Senate action Sunday shows preview: US hails Israel-Hamas cease-fire; 'vast differences' remain between Biden, GOP on infrastructure Lawmakers brace for battles with colleagues as redistricting kicks off MORE (D-Ga.), who became an activist after losing her son to gun violence. McBath won a suburban Atlanta district President TrumpDonald TrumpDOJ asks Supreme Court to revive Boston Marathon bomber death sentence, in break with Biden vow Biden looking to build momentum for Putin meeting DOJ tells media execs that reporters were not targets of investigations MORE narrowly carried in 2016.

"This bill is further proof that gun safety is no longer the third rail of American politics,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety.  

Sponsored by Reps. Mike ThompsonCharles (Mike) Michael ThompsonHouse Democrats introduce bill to close existing gun loopholes and prevent mass shootings Giffords group unveils gun violence memorial on National Mall Democrats urge Biden to take executive action on assault-style firearms MORE (D-Calif.) and Peter King (R-N.Y.), the legislation would expand the federal background checks that precede commercial gun sales. Aside from King, four Republicans have endorsed the background check bill: Reps. Chris SmithChristopher (Chris) Henry SmithThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate path uncertain after House approves Jan. 6 panel The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by Facebook — Biden delivers 100 million shots in 58 days, doses to neighbors The eight Republicans who voted to tighten background checks on guns MORE (N.J.), Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonFauci: Emails highlight confusion about Trump administration's mixed messages early in pandemic Why Republican politicians are sticking with Trump Progressives nearly tank House Democrats' Capitol security bill MORE (Mich.), Brian MastBrian Jeffrey MastHouse GOP fights back against mask, metal detector fines Massie, Greene trash mask violation warnings from House sergeant at arms House rejects GOP effort to roll back chamber's mask mandate MORE (Fla.) and Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickFitness industry group hires new CEO amid lobbying push House moderates unveil .25T infrastructure plan OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden suspends Arctic oil leases issued under Trump |  Experts warn US needs to better prepare for hurricane season | Progressives set sights on Civilian Climate Corps MORE (Pa.).

Under current law, licensed gun dealers are required to run potential buyers through an FBI database — the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) — to screen out felons, illegal immigrants, spousal abusers, the severely mentally ill, or another category that would bar them from buying or owning weapons. But unlicensed gun sellers — including those operating at gun shows or on the internet — are not required to conduct the same screenings.Gun reforms advocates say that creates an enormous loophole that poses a constant threat to public safety.

“By closing these loopholes and expanding background checks we will make our communities safer,” McBath said Tuesday. “Quite simply, background checks save lives.”

The gun lobby has stood in the way of an expansion of background check laws.

Although the National Rifle Association (NRA) endorsed the idea in 1999, following the deadly mass shooting at a high school in Colorado, the group has reversed course more recently to oppose any such expansion as an infringement on constitutional rights — a message echoed by many Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Richard HudsonRichard Lane HudsonPharmaceutical industry donated to two-thirds of Congress ahead of 2020 elections: analysis GOP frustration with Liz Cheney 'at a boiling point' Need for national concealed carry reciprocity at all-time high MORE (R-N.C.) this week hammered the Democrats as “hypocritical” for pushing legislation he says “would have done nothing to prevent the horrific attack on Rep. Giffords and only serve to punish law-abiding citizens.”

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“This legislation does nothing to prevent gun violence, yet threatens the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens,” Hudson said.

It remains to be seen how the Senate will respond when the House sends the bill to the upper chamber. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBipartisan infrastructure deal takes fire from left and right Jayapal to Dems: Ditch bipartisanship, go it alone on infrastructure The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sights and sounds from Biden's European trip MORE (R-Ky.) opposed a background check bill brought to the Senate floor in 2013 and has shown no inclination to support tougher gun laws.

Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyBlack women look to build upon gains in coming elections Watch live: GOP senators present new infrastructure proposal Sasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote MORE (R-Pa.) expressed hope in an op-ed for the Allentown Morning Call that House passage of a background checks bill would “boost momentum” for his own proposal to cover all commercial gun sales.

“A silver lining of Democratic control of the House is that they may pass background check legislation,” Toomey wrote. “Congress should finally come together and enact our bill.”

Toomey's bipartisan measure with Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinIn Congress, what goes on behind closed doors? Jayapal to Dems: Ditch bipartisanship, go it alone on infrastructure Harris discusses voting rights with advocates in South Carolina MORE (D-W.Va.) fell five votes short of passage of the Senate in 2013 in the face of opposition from the National Rifle Association.

Giffords expressed hope that the shifting tides in Congress will lead to a different outcome on gun control issues.

“Stopping gun violence takes courage, the courage to do what’s right. … Now is the time to come together and be responsible,” Giffords said, surrounded by fellow survivors of gun violence at an event in the Capitol unveiling the legislation.

“The nation is counting on you.”