House passes bill expanding background checks on gun sales

The House approved major background checks legislation championed by Democrats on Wednesday, but not before House Republicans secured a significant victory by amending the bill at the last second. 

The 240-190 vote marks the most significant gun control vote in years. It would require all gun sellers to conduct background checks on firearm buyers. 

The successful vote follows the failure by the Senate in 2013 to pass similar bipartisan legislation to expand the federal background check system.

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The measure was passed in a largely party-line vote, with eight GOP lawmakers voting with Democrats. Two Democrats voted against the measure: Reps. Collin Peterson (Minn.) and Jared Golden (Maine). 

The GOP lawmakers who voted for the measure were Reps. Vern BuchananVernon Gale BuchananMORE (Fla.), Mario Diaz-BalartMario Rafael Diaz-BalartPelosi asks House chairs to enforce mandatory mask-wearing during hearings House GOP lawmaker tests positive for COVID-19 The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Association of American Railroads Ian Jefferies says no place for hate, racism or bigotry in rail industry or society; Trump declares victory in response to promising jobs report MORE (Fla.), Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickKaren Bass's star rises after leading police reform push The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - States are pausing reopening Democrats release bilingual ads on police reform bill MORE (Pa.), Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdOVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Key impeachment witness retires | Duckworth presses for information | Subpanel advances defense measure | Democrats press for end to military transgender ban Karen Bass's star rises after leading police reform push The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - States are pausing reopening MORE (Texas), Pete KingPeter (Pete) KingCheney clashes with Trump Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney On The Money: 3 million more Americans file for unemployment benefits | Sanders calls for Senate to 'improve' House Democrats' coronavirus bill | Less than 40 percent of small businesses have received emergency coronavirus loans MORE (N.Y.), Brian MastBrian Jeffrey MastDemocrats start cracking down on masks for lawmakers House Republicans push back against proxy voting GOP lawmakers consider returning to DC despite coronavirus shutdown MORE (Fla.), Chris SmithChristopher (Chris) Henry SmithNew Jersey incumbents steamroll progressive challengers in primaries Republican Rep. Chris Smith easily wins primary in New Jersey NY, NJ lawmakers call for more aid to help fight coronavirus MORE (N.J.) and Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Teachers' union President Randi Weingarten calls Trump administration plan to reopen schools 'a train wreck'; US surpasses 3 million COVID-19 cases Karen Bass's star rises after leading police reform push The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - States are pausing reopening MORE (Mich.). Many of them represent swing districts. 

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who has been a vocal advocate for gun control, appeared in the House chamber for the vote. The measure is unlikely to become law, as it is not expected to receive a vote in the GOP Senate. 

Before the final vote, however, Republicans in the minority won on a procedural vote that forced Democrats to rewrite their bill. Such motions to recommit are rarely successful in the House, but this is the second such victory by the GOP since Democrats regained the majority in January.

The motion to recommit added language to the bill that requires U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to be notified when immigrants who do not have legal status attempt to purchase a firearm. 

The last-minute change came as a major win for Republicans, who saw identical language shot down in the House Rules Committee. 

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The victory was an embarrassment for Democrats, who were unable to whip enough votes to defeat the measure. Twenty-six Democrats backed it, including a number of centrists who won election last fall in swing districts, such as Reps. Anthony Brindisi (N.Y.), Angie Craig (Minn.), Joe CunninghamJoseph CunninghamHarrison goes on the attack against Graham in new South Carolina Senate ad Club for Growth unleashes financial juggernaut for 2020 races Focus shifts to House after Senate passes major public lands bill MORE (S.C.), Ben McAdams (Utah), Max RoseMax RoseAlarm grows over Americans stranded in Yemen amid pandemic Moderate House Democrats introduce bill aimed at stopping China from exploiting coronavirus pandemic Republican Nicole Malliotakis wins New York primary to challenge Max Rose MORE (N.Y.), Mikie SherrillRebecca (Mikie) Michelle SherrillNew Jersey incumbents steamroll progressive challengers in primaries The Hill's Morning Report - Republicans shift, urge people to wear masks Gun control group rolls out House endorsements MORE (N.J.). Elissa SlotkinElissa SlotkinWill Congress finally address toxic 'forever chemicals?' Overnight Defense: Trump's move to use military in US sparks backlash | Defense officials take heat | Air Force head calls Floyd's death 'a national tragedy' Democrats blast Trump's use of military against protests MORE (Mich.) and Abigail SpanbergerAbigail Davis SpanbergerTrade groups make lobbying push to be included in small business loan program Virginia GOP to pick House nominee after candidate misses filing deadline Gun control group rolls out House endorsements MORE (Va.).

The underlying bill was spearheaded by Reps. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) and King and had a total of five Republican co-sponsors.

The legislation aims to expand requirements for background checks on private sales including those made at gun shows, on the internet or through classified ads.

Under current law, only licensed gun dealers are mandated to conduct background checks on those looking to purchase a gun.

 “There's no reason to continue to make it easy for people who are legally prohibited from possessing firearms to acquire them,” House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said during debate on the floor ahead of the vote.

“By circumventing the background check process. H.R. 8 would close this dangerous loophole and save many, many lives.”

But critics say it fails to address the problems that have led to mass shootings in the past, arguing it makes it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to exercise their constitutional rights. 

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) — who sustained life-threatening injuries after being shot at Republicans’ congressional baseball practice in 2017 — argued it would make it more difficult for gun owners to provide assistance to those looking to defend themselves in potentially dangerous situations.

“For example, to loan a gun to a friend who is a victim of domestic violence who's asking for help to borrow a gun to defend themselves, you can go to federal prison now for a practice as basic as that,” he told The Hill.

Under the new House legislation passed on Wednesday, exemptions would be made for transfers for hunting purposes, target shooting and self-defense, as well as gifts between family members.

Top Republicans advocated for legislation spearheaded by Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, aimed at strengthening law enforcement's response to potential threats and cutting down on illegal street sales of firearms.

“The sad part about it is they claim this is the answer and the first step. The actuality is it's at best a side step and may actually be a step backward and will not do what is being claimed to do,” Collins said of the Democrat-backed bill on the floor.  

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House Democrats have made strengthening gun regulations a top priority since taking back control of the lower chamber.

The House is expected to take up a second gun-related bill Thursday, which would lengthen the review period on gun sales. It is also expected to pass along party lines and then face tough odds in the Senate.

This story was updated at 6:20 p.m.