House slated to vote on most significant gun control bill in years

The House is slated to vote Wednesday on landmark legislation to require universal background checks for gun sales, a top priority for Democrats.

It will mark the most significant gun control vote in years after the Senate failed in 2013 to pass similar bipartisan legislation to expand the federal background check system.

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It’s not the only day this week the House will take up legislation to address gun violence.

House Democrats plan to follow Wednesday’s vote with another on Thursday for a bill to lengthen the review period for background checks, which is meant as a response to the 2015 shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C.

“We have been partaking in a grisly ritual. We have a mass shooting, we have a moment of silence, and then there has been inaction. This signifies the end of that,” said Rep. Katherine ClarkKatherine Marlea ClarkDemocratic staffer says Wendy Davis will run for Congress Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Democratic leaders seek balance amid liberal push to go big on immigration MORE (D-Mass.), vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus who helped lead a sit-in on the House floor after the 2016 shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

The universal background checks measure would require background checks to cover sales made at gun shows and widen the scope for internet transactions. Current law only mandates federally licensed firearms dealers to conduct background checks before making a gun sale.

Both bills face stiff opposition from the National Rifle Association (NRA) and most Republicans in Congress.

The universal background checks measure, authored by Reps. Mike ThompsonCharles (Mike) Michael ThompsonHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Democrats struggle with repeal of key Trump tax provision House panel approves bills on tax extenders, expanding tax credits MORE (D-Calif.) and Pete KingPeter (Pete) Thomas KingBerkeley professor warns deepfake technology being 'weaponized' against women Hillicon Valley: Harris spikes in Google searches after debate clash with Biden | Second US city blocks facial recognition | Apple said to be moving Mac Pro production from US to China | Bipartisan Senate bill takes aim at 'deepfake' videos Senators unveil bipartisan bill to target 'deepfake' video threat MORE (R-N.Y.), is titled the Bipartisan Background Checks Act.

But it’s not expected to attract more than a handful of House GOP votes beyond the five who have co-sponsored the bill: Reps. Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickThe Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants Al Green says impeachment is 'only solution' to Trump's rhetoric House approves bill raising minimum wage to per hour MORE (Pa.), Brian MastBrian Jeffrey MastBuzz Aldrin marks launch of Apollo 11 mission to the moon Overnight Energy: Trump threatens veto on defense bill that targets 'forever chemicals' | Republicans form conservation caucus | Pressure mounts against EPA's new FOIA rule Republicans form conservation caucus to take on environment, climate change MORE (Fla.), Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonAl 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' Democratic strategist on Trump tweets: 'He's feeding this fear and hate' MORE (Mich.), Chris SmithChristopher (Chris) Henry SmithThe Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants House approves bill raising minimum wage to per hour House calls for investigation into whether Pentagon tried to weaponize ticks MORE (N.J.) and King.

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Democrats’ decision to vote on the legislation in the first 100 days of the new Congress — and introduce it in only a few days last month — demonstrates the shift in politics surrounding gun control from as recently as a decade ago, when they last controlled the House.

In 2007, when Democrats last took over the majority, Congress passed legislation to encourage more states to submit red-flag cases to the FBI. President George W. Bush signed the law, which came in response to the Virginia Tech shooting that same year.

But the law did not restrict gun sales or ownership, and Democratic leaders at the time took pains not to promote legislation that did so. The caucus then featured more conservative-leaning Democrats, including many who were gun rights defenders, and gun reform was still thought to be a third-rail of politics that could threaten Democrats in red-leaning districts.

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerThe House Democrats who voted to kill impeachment effort Overnight Defense: House votes to block Trump arms sales to Saudis, setting up likely veto | US officially kicks Turkey out of F-35 program | Pentagon sending 2,100 more troops to border House votes to block Trump's Saudi arms sale MORE (D-Md.) said Tuesday that the politics of gun reform has changed drastically since Democrats last controlled the chamber.

Not only has the number of Democrats resistant to gun control declined steeply, but a long string of high-profile mass shootings has shifted public opinion in favor of tougher laws. Those factors, he said, have freed Democratic leaders to move quickly on the background check bill this year.

“The carnage that we’ve seen perpetrated by gun violence over the last decade has heightened the American people’s concerns,” Hoyer told reporters in the Capitol.

“It was controversial within our own party, and we didn’t have much confidence that it would be able to pass,” he continued, referring to the years between 2007 and 2011, when Democrats last held the gavel. “And there are still differences within our party as to how far you want to go. But we think this piece of legislation [background checks] and the ‘Charleston loophole’ closing is something that the overwhelming majority of the American people will want us to support.”

Case in point: Freshman Rep. Lucy McBathLucia (Lucy) Kay McBathGOP polling: Impeachment unpopular in swing districts GOP scores procedural win by securing more funding to enforce Iran sanctions Black women candidates are overlooked and underrated MORE (D-Ga.) represents a suburban Atlanta district that President TrumpDonald John TrumpCould Donald Trump and Boris Johnson be this generation's Reagan-Thatcher? Merkel backs Democratic congresswomen over Trump How China's currency manipulation cheats America on trade MORE won narrowly in 2016. Yet she won what had long been a GOP-held seat while actively campaigning for gun safety measures.

McBath became a gun control activist with Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action after her 17-year-old son was shot and killed following a dispute over loud music.

This week’s votes, McBath said, are “reflective of our changing national conversation around gun violence.”

And the conversation is also personal for multiple other current and former members of Congress.

McBath and fellow Democratic freshman Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-PowellDebbie Mucarsel-PowellThe House Democrats who voted to kill impeachment effort House votes to kill impeachment effort against Trump Democratic lawmaker pushes back on Castro's call to repeal law making illegal border crossings a crime MORE (Fla.), whose father died in a shooting, both appeared at the weekly Democratic leadership press conference on Tuesday to promote background checks legislation.

And former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was shot in the head at a constituent event in 2011 and now heads an eponymous gun control advocacy group, also rallied supporters at a separate event outside the Capitol.

“I am never going to forget the day that I received a phone call when I was 24 years old telling me that my father was shot and killed by a criminal with a gun. Unfortunately, thousands of Americans in this country now share the same story as mine,” Mucarsel-Powell said.

But House Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseThe Memo: Fears of violence grow amid Trump race storm Democrats call for increased security after 'send her back' chants Democratic strategist on Trump tweets: 'He's feeding this fear and hate' MORE (R-La.), who was nearly killed in 2017 after a man targeting GOP lawmakers opened fire on a congressional baseball practice, is on the opposite side of the debate. He doesn’t think the legislation would have necessarily prevented recent mass shootings. The man who shot him, for example, had obtained his firearms legally.

“If you look at the bill, it wouldn’t have stopped many of these mass shootings. What it would do is make it harder for law-abiding citizens to exercise their rights,” Scalise told The Hill on Tuesday.

At the same time, Democrats have carved out some exemptions in the universal background checks measure for gun transfers between family members and for use in activities like hunting.

The legislation also offers an exception in cases of temporary transfers “necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.”

Democrats plan to allow votes on amendments to clarify that those instances would apply to people at risk of committing suicide or who face the threat of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

But Republicans are pushing for more exemptions in the legislation.

Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.), herself a domestic violence survivor, called for specifically allowing firearms transfers to victims of domestic violence or sexual assault who have court-issued protection orders. She questioned whether the bill sufficiently defined a temporary transfer or what could be construed as “imminent death.”

“I think we should at least define what these terms mean,” Lesko said of the Democrats’ proposal.

Thompson dismissed criticism that his legislation wouldn’t have prevented recent mass shootings, arguing that shouldn’t be a reason to reject expanding background checks.

“As far as anybody who says, ‘Well, this bill wouldn’t have solved this incident’? The only thing that will solve every one is to do away with guns,” Thompson said Tuesday.

The next bill, slated for a vote on Thursday, is authored by House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and designed to close the so-called Charleston loophole.

The shooter in that massacre, Dylann Roof, would not have been able to buy a gun if a federal background check examiner had obtained an incident report stating that he had admitted to possessing drugs.

Current law allows a gun sale to proceed if a background check isn’t done within three days.

Clyburn’s bill would extend the review period to 10 days and allow a buyer to request a review if the background check hasn’t been done by that point. The gun sale can proceed if another 10 days go by without a response.

And Democrats expect to take up more gun control legislation in the coming months, although there’s still debate over what should come up next.

Gun control advocacy groups like Everytown have called for measures such as allowing family members and law enforcement to temporarily block a person from buying a gun if they pose a threat to themselves or others, funding research into gun violence and preventing domestic abusers from possessing firearms.

Rep. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineThe Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment House votes to kill impeachment effort against Trump MORE (D-R.I.), who heads House Democrats’ messaging arm, recently reintroduced legislation to ban assault weapons. He acknowledged that he hadn’t yet spoken with other members of leadership about taking up his bill, but predicted the House would eventually consider more gun control
measures.

“I’m confident that we’re going to do more than the universal background checks. This is the first bill. And it will be up to the caucus whether there is sufficient consensus around the assault weapons ban, whether we bring it to the floor or not,” Cicilline said.

Mike Lillis and Juliegrace Brufke contributed.

-- Updated on Feb. 27 at 11:05 a.m.