House, now controlled by Democrats, approved on Wednesday a measure requiring federal background checks for all firearms sales and transfers. This is the first major gun control legislation considered by Congress in nearly 25 years.
Democrats called the 240-190 vote a major step to end the gun lobby’s grip on Washington and begin to address an epidemic of gun violence. They focused on the 17 people who were killed at a Florida high school last year.
The bill is just the first of two that Democrats are bringing to the House floor this week as part of an effort to tighten gun laws following eight years of Republican control. The second bill would extend the review period for background checks from three to 10 days.
Both bills will face an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Senate and veto threats from President Trump. He said the bills would impose unreasonable requirements on gun owners.
The White House said that the background-checks bill could block someone from borrowing a firearm for self-defense or allowing a neighbor to take care of a gun while traveling.
Democrats maintain that those arguments are misleading and said gun owners have a responsibility to ensure firearms are properly handled. The bill includes exceptions allowing temporary transfers to prevent imminent harm or for use at a target range. The new bill would simply close loopholes to ensure that background checks are extended to private and online sales that often go undetected, Democrats said.
“People who are felons or are dangerously mentally ill shouldn’t have guns,” regardless of whether they buy them from a federally licensed dealer or their next-door neighbor, said Democratic Rep. Mike Thompson of California. He is a key sponsor who has pushed for expanded background checks since the 2012 killing of 20 elementary school students in Newtown, Connecticut.
“For six-and-a-half years, we had no cooperation from the past majority” in the House, Thompson said. “We couldn’t get a hearing on the bill. We couldn’t get a vote. Today, we’re here to tell you it’s a new day. With this (Democratic) majority, we have made a commitment to address the issue of gun violence.”
Thompson and other Democrats wore orange ties to represent their support of the bill, while others wore orange scarves, the color used by the movement against gun violence.
Rep. Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania said she hopes the symbolism will soon become unnecessary.
“I long for the day when orange scarves are a fashion statement, not a cry for help,” said Dean, who was wearing a bright orange scarf.
Republican House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who was wounded in a 2017 shooting at a congressional baseball practice, said stricter background checks would not have prevented his shooting or other tragedies.
“What it would do is make criminals out of law-abiding citizens,” Scalise said. “If you go hunting with a friend and your friend wants to borrow your rifle, you better bring your attorney with you because depending on what you do with that gun you may be a felon if you loan it to him.”
But Kris Brown, president of Brady, a gun control group formerly known as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said the bill will save lives.
Brown called the House vote “a monumental step forward for gun violence prevention in our country” and hailed Thompson and other lawmakers who pushed for the measure.
“On to the Senate!” she said.