Editorial Gun legislation a breakthrough, but fight not over

March 1, 2019

Victory, at times, must be measured incrementally.

The first significant piece of gun legislation to pass the House of Representatives Wednesday in at least 25 years is a victory to be noted. But the chances of the Senate adopting the bill are shaky and President Donald Trump has vowed to veto it.

The hard work to make the country safer from gun violence is hardly over.

The bill for universal background checks, passed by 240-190 in the Democratic majority House, was first proposed in 2013 in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting Dec. 14, 2012, that killed 20 first graders and six educators.

That year it failed in the Senate and was never raised for a vote in the House, until the Republicans lost the majority in the 2018 mid-term elections.

With more than 95 percent of Americans favoring universal background checks, the failure to even vote on the bill all those years amounted to an abdication of responsibility.

To have the merits of the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019 debated is a step forward from the stony silence of previous years.

The common sense proposal mandates background checks for all gun purchases, and closes the loophole that had exempted sales at gun shows. Though the National Rifle Association had argued the bill would turn family members into felons if they shared guns at, say a firing range, that is not the case. Family members can transfer firearms to each other without a background check.

Let us keep the debate on the facts, and not obfuscate with scare tactics.

That gun violence is rife in our nation should be obvious.

Nearly 40,000 people die of gun-related injuries per year, U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes, whose Connecticut 5th District includes Newtown, said on the House floor in support of the legislation. “Far too often innocent lives are claimed due to gun violence,” she said.

More than 1,200 children were killed by guns since the Parkland tragedy on Feb. 14, 2018, the Newtown Action Alliance said.

Inaction to address the violence is inexcusable.

Yet, in the Senate where Republicans hold a 53-vote majority and 60 votes are needed on legislation, the numbers are challenging. But not impossible.

This is the time for concerned citizens to contact Republican senators in other states and urge them to support the common sense legislation. Universal background checks are not a threat to the Second Amendment.

Another piece of legislation that can help is H.R. 1112, which would close the “Charleston Loophole” that allows the sale of a firearm if a background check is not completed by the FBI within three business days. This loophole allowed Dylann Roof to purchase the gun he used to kill nine parishioners at a Baptist church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015. The bill extends the FBI deadline to 20 business days. Again, no one’s rights are violated. No one should be able to obtain a gun on a technicality.

The House votes this week have been called historic. But the victory is incremental and not complete.