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 PelosiJohnson eyes Irish border in Brexit negotiations Mueller report fades from political conversation Five key players in Trump's trade battles 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 McBathGOP Georgia congressional candidate withdraws after calling himself a 'white nationalist' House Democrats request sit-down with McConnell to talk guns Assault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress MORE (D-Ga.), who became an activist after losing her son to gun violence. McBath won a suburban Atlanta district President TrumpDonald John TrumpFacebook releases audit on conservative bias claims Harry Reid: 'Decriminalizing border crossings is not something that should be at the top of the list' Recessions happen when presidents overlook key problems 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 request sit-down with McConnell to talk guns Democrats raise pressure on McConnell to tackle gun reform 213 Democratic lawmakers call on McConnell to bring up background checks bills 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 SmithRepublicans plot comeback in New Jersey The 9 House Republicans who support background checks The Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants MORE (N.J.), Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonThe 9 House Republicans who support background checks Al Green says impeachment is 'only solution' to Trump's rhetoric Trump primary challenger Bill Weld responds to rally chants: 'We are in a fight for the soul of the GOP' MORE (Mich.), Brian MastBrian Jeffrey MastThe 9 House Republicans who support background checks Two cats visit Capitol Hill to thank lawmakers who helped end 'kitten slaughterhouse' Buzz Aldrin marks launch of Apollo 11 mission to the moon MORE (Fla.) and Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickHouse Democrats targeting six more Trump districts for 2020 Ensuring quality health care for those with intellectual disabilities and autism House Democrats target 2020 GOP incumbents in new ad 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 HudsonGOP memo deflects some gun questions to 'violence from the left' Thirty-four GOP members buck Trump on disaster bill Two killed in shooting at University of North Carolina Charlotte 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 McConnellPelosi, Schumer press for gun screenings as Trump inches away The malware election: Returning to paper ballots only way to prevent hacking First House Republican backs bill banning assault weapons 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 ToomeyNSA improperly collected US phone records in October, new documents show Overnight 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 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) ManchinSunday shows - Recession fears dominate Manchin: Trump has 'golden opportunity' on gun reforms Trump vows to 'always uphold the Second Amendment' amid ongoing talks on gun laws 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.”