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.

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 PelosiTrump says he'd win the election 'easier' if Democrats impeach him Democrats give Trump trade chief high marks Hispanic Caucus seeks to retain voice in House leadership 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.”

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 McBathEx-congressman launching PAC to defend Dem seats in 2020 GOP amps up efforts to recruit women candidates The Memo: Harris move shows shift in politics of gun control MORE (D-Ga.), who became an activist after losing her son to gun violence. McBath won a suburban Atlanta district President TrumpDonald John TrumpFormer Joint Chiefs chairman: 'The last thing in the world we need right now is a war with Iran' Pence: 'We're not convinced' downing of drone was 'authorized at the highest levels' Trump: Bolton would take on the whole world at one time 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 panel approves bills on tax extenders, expanding tax credits House Democrats release bills to renew tax breaks, expand tax credits for workers and families House panel to hold hearings on SALT deduction cap 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 SmithNew Jersey governor signs rideshare safety law in honor of murdered college student House panel to hold hearings on SALT deduction cap Thirty-four GOP members buck Trump on disaster bill MORE (N.J.), Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonHouse passes bill to protect 'Dreamers' Thirty-four GOP members buck Trump on disaster bill Overnight Health Care: Lawmakers get deal to advance long-stalled drug pricing bill | House votes to condemn Trump's anti-ObamaCare push | Eight House Republicans join with Dems | Trump officials approve Medicaid expansion in Maine MORE (Mich.), Brian MastBrian Jeffrey MastGOP launches anti-BDS discharge petition Conserving tiny forage fish, the heroes of our shared ocean ecosystem Conservation remains a core conservative principle MORE (Fla.) and Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickOvernight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record Addressing climate change is a win for Republicans — why not embrace it? House passes amendment to block funding for transgender troops ban 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 HudsonThirty-four GOP members buck Trump on disaster bill Two killed in shooting at University of North Carolina Charlotte Don’t look for House GOP to defy Trump on border wall 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.”

“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 McConnellGOP senators divided over approach to election security Democrats seek to ban federal spending at Trump businesses Congress unlikely to reach deal on Trump border bill before break 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 ToomeyOvernight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general WH backpedals on Trump's 'due process' remark on guns Top GOP candidate drops out of Ohio Senate race 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 ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinRepublicans, Trump Jr. signal support for embattled West Virginia governor Critics say Interior's top lawyer came 'close to perjury' during Hill testimony The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by MAPRx — Trump takes heat for remarks on help from foreign governments 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.”