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.

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-BalartThe 9 House Republicans who support background checks House passes temporary immigration protections for Venezuelans House fails to pass temporary immigration protections for Venezuelans MORE (Fla.), 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.), Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes Democrat running for Will Hurd's seat raises over million in first 100 days of campaign Democrats keen to take on Cornyn despite formidable challenges MORE (Texas), Pete KingPeter (Pete) Thomas KingFirst House Republican backs bill banning assault weapons The 9 House Republicans who support background checks Progressive gun control activist on NRA: 'Don't count them out' MORE (N.Y.), 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.), 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.) and 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.). 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. 

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 CunninghamAssault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress Pelosi backers feel vindicated after tumultuous stretch The Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants MORE (S.C.), Ben McAdams (Utah), Max RoseMax RoseAssault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress The 11 House Dems from Trump districts who support assault weapons ban Pelosi backers feel vindicated after tumultuous stretch MORE (N.Y.), Mikie SherrillRebecca (Mikie) Michelle SherrillAmerica's colleges and universities are aggressively addressing foreign threats Republicans plot comeback in New Jersey Assault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress MORE (N.J.). Elissa SlotkinElissa SlotkinMueller report fades from political conversation House Democrats urge Trump to end deportations of Iraqis after diabetic man's death Hillicon Valley: Capital One faces investigation over massive breach | DHS warns of cyber vulnerability in small aircraft | Senate bill would ban 'addictive' social media features MORE (Mich.) and Abigail SpanbergerAbigail Davis SpanbergerAssault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress Pelosi backers feel vindicated after tumultuous stretch 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 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.  

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.