House passes sweeping gun legislation to expand background checks to cover virtually all sales

February 27, 2019

The House on Wednesday passed legislation to expand gun-purchase background check requirements to cover virtually all gun sales and most firearms transfers, taking its most far-reaching steps in years on gun control.

The bill passed 240-190, after which gun control advocates who were on hand to observe the vote applauded in the House chamber.

Democrats say extending the checks to cover more private sales is a simple way to have the government flag more people who are barred from buying guns, like felons and terrorists.

“Gun violence does not discriminate by party or politics,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. “It reaches into all of our communities, into our schools, our places of worship, our workplaces and our streets, and it will require all of our courage to defeat it.”

Though some House Republicans crossed the aisle to support the bill, it’s unlikely to become law anytime soon with the GOP in control of the U.S. Senate and the White House.

But gun control advocates say the House vote is still a major victory given congressional inaction on guns in recent years, and that it’s a signal the politics of the issue have shifted since last year’s school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

Many Democrats wore orange for the vote to signify their support for the issue.

Republicans, though, said the legislation will result in otherwise law-abiding citizens getting needlessly swept up into the federal bureaucracy and that it sounded like the first step toward a national gun registry, which conservatives staunchly oppose.

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, who survived a shooting at a congressional baseball practice in June 2017, said Democrats weren’t interested in hearing his testimony on the issue.

“Every day on average in this country, guns are used by good people to defend themselves against bad people, and it’s going to make it harder for them to get access to these guns,” said Mr. Scalise, Louisiana Republican.

Currently, only federally licensed gun dealers are required to run the checks through the FBI’s national instant check system.

The legislation from Rep. Mike Thompson, California Democrat, would make it illegal for anyone who is not a licensed gun dealer, manufacturer, or importer to transfer a gun to anyone who is not similarly licensed without conducting a background check.

The bill includes exemptions, including for gifts to family members and transfers for hunting and target shooting purposes.

Mr. Thompson pointed out that he is a lifelong gun owner and a hunter.

“If this bill did anything to erode the rights of lawful gun owners, I wouldn’t support it and it wouldn’t have my name on it,” he said.

But Mr. Scalise said some of the exemption language is too vague.

“You not only need to bring your hunting partner, you might need to bring your attorney to find out if loaning your shotgun to your friend makes you a felon under this bill,” he said.

Democrats and gun control advocates have spent much of the week on and around Capitol Hill trying to rally support for their cause ahead of the action in the House on Wednesday.

“Be bold. Be courageous - the nation is counting on you,” former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords said this week on Capitol Hill.

Ms. Giffords, Arizona Democrat, was gravely wounded by a deranged gunman at a constituent event in January 2011. She resigned from Congress a year later, but has remained a prominent gun control advocate since then.

The House is also set to vote this week on legislation from House Majority Whip James Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat, that would extend the amount of time a dealer has to wait to hear back from the FBI on whether a would-be purchaser is barred from having a gun before proceeding with a sale.

Mr. Clyburn’s bill is intended to close the so-called “Charleston loophole.” That’s a reference to Dylann Roof, who authorities say shot and killed nine people at a South Carolina church in 2015.