Congresswoman Diana DeGette

Representing the First District of Colorado
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US House approves bill to expand gun-sale background checks

Feb 28, 2019
In The News

The Democratic-controlled House on Wednesday approved a measure requiring federal background checks for all firearms sales and transfers, 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 that kills thousands of Americans every year, including 17 people shot and killed at a Florida high school last year.

The bill is the first of two the House is voting on this week as Democrats move to tighten gun laws following eight years of Republican control. The other bill would extend the review period for background checks from three to 10 days.

“Despite the horrific shootings we saw in Columbine and Aurora, in Orlando and Parkland, in Vegas and elsewhere, Republicans in the House did nothing,” said U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, a cosponsor, in a statement. “This bill will help keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them in the first place. And it’s just the first in a long series of gun safety measures we hope to get passed this year.”

Both measures face dim prospects in the Republican-controlled Senate and veto threats from President Donald Trump, who said they would impose unreasonable requirements on gun owners.

Just eight Republicans joined 232 Democrats to support the bill, while only two Democrats voted against it.

"The Second Amendment right of Americans are non-negotiable and cannot be infringed," said U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs. "This piece of legislation claims to protect gun owners. The reality is it imposes yet another hoop for law-abiding citizens to jump through. It does not provide any substantial protections or prevent violence. Instead, it assumes that dangerous people who want to purchase a gun will do it legally and submit to universal background checks.

"Instead of offering common sense solutions, Democrats are attempting to restrict our constitutional rights," Lamborn added.

The White House said in a veto message 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 called those arguments 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 long-delayed bill would merely 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 Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., a key sponsor who has pushed for expanded background checks since the 2012 killing of 20 elementary school students in Newtown, Connecticut.

"For 6-1/2 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."

While Republicans mostly opposed the bill, the GOP scored a procedural victory when the House accepted a Republican amendment requiring that gun sellers notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement when an illegal immigrant tries to buy a gun. Twenty-six Democrats joined with Republicans to support the amendment, offered by Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi downplayed the GOP proposal, saying, "We won a big victory — get the message."

Pelosi, D-Calif., called the House vote "historic" and hailed the bill as "a long-overdue, commonsense action to end the epidemic of gun violence in America."

To demonstrate her support for the bill, Pelosi wore an orange dress while other Democrats wore orange ties or scarves, the color used by the movement against gun violence.

Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., said she hopes the symbolism will soon become obsolete.

"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.

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., who was gravely wounded in a 2017 shooting at a congressional baseball practice, said stricter background checks would not have prevented his shooting or other tragedies.