House approves bills tightening background checks on guns

The House on Thursday approved two pieces of legislation aimed at strengthening background checks on firearm sales and transfers, a leading priority for Democratic lawmakers.

The Bipartisan Background Checks Act — spearheaded by Rep. Mike ThompsonCharles (Mike) Michael ThompsonVirginia Democrat introduces tax credit for electric commercial vehicles House Democrats introduce bill to close existing gun loopholes and prevent mass shootings Giffords group unveils gun violence memorial on National Mall MORE (D-Calif.) — looks to “utilize the current background checks process” in an attempt to ensure individuals prohibited from possessing a gun are unable to obtain one.

The bill passed by a 227-203 vote with eight Republicans backing the measure and one Democrat, Rep. Jared Golden (Maine), bucking his party to vote against it.

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The legislation would implement new background check requirements for gun transfers between private parties.

Under current law, unlicensed and private sellers are not required to conduct background checks for gun transfers despite licensed firearm dealers being required to do so. 

The bill would require “a licensed gun dealer, manufacturer, or importer” to first take possession of the gun while a background check is being conducted. 

The legislation creates an exemption for transfers made as a gift between spouses. 

While the bill faced pushback from a number of GOP lawmakers, three Republicans — Reps. Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonThe fates of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump House Republican, Democrat say political environment on Capitol Hill is 'toxic' Sunday show preview: Omicron surges, and Harris sits for extensive interview MORE (Mich.), Chris SmithChristopher (Chris) Henry SmithLawmakers seek 'assurances' Olympic uniforms not linked to forced labor Biden signs bill punishing China for Uyghur abuses Last living Nuremberg Trials prosecutor deserves Congressional Gold Medal MORE (N.J.) and Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickOn The Money — Support for new COVID-19 relief grows House lawmakers urge Pelosi to bring stock trading ban to the floor Redistricting reform key to achieving the bipartisanship Americans claim to want MORE (Pa.) — co-sponsored the legislation. 

GOP Reps. Vern BuchananVernon Gale BuchananMORE (Fla.), Maria Salazar (Fla.), Andrew Garbarino (N.Y.), Carlos Gimenez (Fla.) and Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerHouse Republicans bash Democrats' China competition bill Romney participating in fundraiser for Liz Cheney Cheney hits Gingrich for saying Jan. 6 panel members may be jailed MORE (Ill.) also joined Democrats in supporting the measure on Thursday.

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Proponents argued that it’s a necessary step in curbing gun violence and ensuring that guns don’t fall into the wrong hands. 

“We shouldn’t need a pandemic to reduce gun violence in this country. The way to do that ought to be through passing commonsense gun safety legislation through Congress to make it harder for deadly firearms to get into the hands of those who cannot bear them responsibly,” House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerBiden talks climate and child care provisions of Build Back Better agenda with top CEOs The Hill's Morning Report - Biden: Russia attack 'would change the world' Senate Democrats urge Biden to get beefed-up child tax credit into spending deal MORE (D-Md.) said on the floor during debate on Wednesday. 

“That’s what H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, would do. Nine out of 10 Americans support the reforms in this bill. That includes a majority of Republicans and a majority of responsible gun owners. This is one of the greatest examples of legislation that truly reflects the will of the American people."

But critics of the measure argue that it is an infringement on American’s Second Amendment rights and would do little to stop violence. 

Rep. Thomas MassieThomas Harold MassieNew Mexico Democrat tests positive for COVID-19 breakthrough case Mask rules spark political games and a nasty environment in the House Overnight Health Care — Another Texas abortion setback MORE (R-Ky.) argued that statistics show that the majority of gun-related crimes are not committed by people attempting to obtain firearms legally. He added that the new regulations could hinder victims of abuse from obtaining or borrowing a gun for protection purposes in a timely manner. 

“What have background checks accomplished? Well, the DOJ [Department of Justice] said there were 112,000 denials in a year. Who are those 112,000 people? Well, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle would have you think those were felons — they saved you from those felons,” he said on the floor. 

“But how many of those 112,000 were prosecuted for that crime of trying to acquire that gun? According to the DOJ, 12 one to 12 in a year. Who were the other 100,000?” 

Republicans also criticized the bill for leaving out language that would require gun dealers to alert Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the event an undocumented immigrant attempts to buy a gun, a provision that previously passed in a motion to recommit in 2019. 

GOP lawmakers were ultimately unsuccessful in their attempt to revise the bill using the procedural tactic this Congress. 

The second background checks bill passed by the House on Thursday — the Enhanced Background Checks Act, led by House Majority Whip Jim ClyburnJames (Jim) Enos ClyburnNo. 3 Senate Democrat says Biden should tap Black woman for Supreme Court Biden's pledge to appoint Black woman back in spotlight amid Breyer retirement Nina Turner launches new campaign for Congress, setting up likely rematch with Shontel Brown MORE (D-S.C.) — looks to close the “Charleston loophole.”

That bill passed in a 219-210 vote, with GOP Reps. Fitzpatrick and Smith and Democratic Reps. Golden and Ron KindRonald (Ron) James KindRedistricting reform key to achieving the bipartisanship Americans claim to want Democrats confront rising retirements as difficult year ends Members of Congress not running for reelection in 2022 MORE (D-Wis.) breaking with their respective parties on the vote. 

Under the legislation, the review period in which a background check can be conducted before purchasing a firearm would be extended from the current three days to 10.

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Clyburn first introduced the bill after the 2015 shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., where a white supremacist killed nine Black parishioners.

"These people who were practicing their faith, their faith that taught them to welcome in a stranger, a stranger that came to their door and they welcomed into their Bible study, he sat with them for an hour. The stranger that they had welcomed in had opened fire and killed nine of them, one of who was the pastor, a former intern of mine,” Clyburn said during debate on the floor on Wednesday. "This law would have prevented that gentleman from getting a gun.”

But GOP critics said they feel both bills are an infringement on law-abiding citizens’ constitutional rights. 

“I will not stand by and allow our rights to be stripped away. My colleagues on the other side of the aisle claim that these bills will save lives. However, nothing in them would have stopped any of the recent mass casualty shootings that have occurred in our country,” Rep. Ben ClineBenjamin (Ben) Lee ClineThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden to make voting rights play in Atlanta Mace tests positive for COVID-19 a second time Two more House lawmakers test positive for COVID-19 MORE (R-Va.) said.  

“Rather than go after criminals who break the law, Democrats want to create a false narrative that will criminalize private gun ownership. Democrats will tell that you these bills close loopholes. But the loophole they believe exists is that law-abiding Americans are even able to own guns in the first place."

Both bills are backed by the Biden administration, but the legislation faces an uphill battle in the upper chamber, where they are unlikely to garner enough GOP support to meet the 60-vote threshold needed to pass. 

Updated: 12:48 p.m.