WASHINGTON—The House prepared Wednesday to pass an expansion of background checks for nearly all gun sales, a cornerstone of the legislative agenda newly empowered Democrats pledged to enact, but one that faces resistance in the GOP-controlled Senate.
The legislation expected to pass the House Wednesday afternoon would be the most significant gun-control measure to clear Congress in decades, were it to become law. But Republicans in the Senate indicated this week they were unlikely to take it up, while gun-control advocates prepared to intensify pressure on the chamber to consider the measure.
The House bill would require background checks for nearly all gun sales, with narrow exemptions, ensuring that buyers would be vetted for almost all private sales online and at gun shows. Currently, federal laws require the checks only for sales by federally licensed dealers, though some states have added their own requirements.
Democrats, frustrated for years by Republicans’ opposition to tightening gun regulations, celebrated their opportunity to do more than condemn gun violence after the latest mass shooting.
“We have been partaking in a grisly ritual. We have a mass shooting, we have a moment of silence and then there has been inaction,” House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairwoman Katherine Clark of Massachusetts said. “This signifies the end of that.”
But Republicans in the GOP-led Senate said they were unlikely to consider the bill, given that most in their party have preferred to loosen gun regulations. Even Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.), who previously backed a different bill expanding background checks, said he didn’t expect the Senate would take up the issue.
“I’m not wildly optimistic,” Mr. Toomey said, although he noted he was talking to other Republicans to see if they could craft a version of a background-checks bill that could draw broader support. “I’m still in discussions with colleagues to see if there are ways to tweak it so we could have more support.”
Gun-control advocates are hoping that a shifting political climate will pressure the Senate to act. After a midterm election in which 40 House Democratic challengers beat Republicans who had “A” ratings from the NRA, gun-control supporters said the public appetite had grown for politicians to respond to mass shootings.
“Gun violence prevention was on the ballot in November and it won,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.), warning Senate Republicans that they could face consequences next year for blocking gun-control measures. “Gun violence prevention is going to be on the ballot again in November 2020.”
In the House, five Republicans had signed onto the bill, but most other House GOP lawmakers opposed it, arguing that it was too expansive and could prevent people from loaning each other guns in certain circumstances.
“In a lot of these cases with gun crimes, we find out it was federal agencies not doing their job,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R., La.) said on Fox News Tuesday. “Don’t put more laws on the books that make you a felon if you loan your gun to your friend."
Loans or gifts between family members would be exempt under the legislation, as would temporary transfers of a gun while hunting or at a shooting range, for example, while in the presence of the person lending the gun. There are also exemptions for cases in which someone is under imminent threat. The legislation prohibits the creation of a national registry, a chief fear of many opposed to tightening gun regulations.
The National Rifle Association opposes the bill, arguing it would punish law-abiding gun owners, while criminals would ignore the background checks system already in place.
The House was also expected later this week to pass a bill sponsored by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D., S.C.) that would extend the time permitted for the initial background check to 10 days, and potentially up to 20 days, from the current three-day period. Lawmakers said the measure was aimed at preventing someone from obtaining a gun after a background check wasn’t completed in three days, as occurred with the shooter in a South Carolina killing spree in 2015.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation currently has three business days to determine whether someone should be denied permission to buy a gun. Under Mr. Clyburn’s bill, if a background check hasn’t been completed in 10 days, a buyer can ask for an expedited review, of up to another 10 days. If the background check still hasn’t been completed after 20 days, the sale could go through.
In 2017, the government identified more than 6,000 prohibited buyers who were flagged after the three-day deadline for background checks. The FBI faces obstacles including missing and incomplete state and local records, software glitches and too few employees working on the checks, called examiners.
Congress has made only incremental changes to the country’s gun laws in recent years. After the shooting of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., a bill to expand background checks to all online sales and sales at gun shows narrowly failed in the Senate in 2013.
Bipartisan groups of lawmakers have also pushed to prevent suspected terrorists from buying firearms by prohibiting individuals on the government’s “no fly” list, but a series of proposals all came up short in 2016, following the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.
Congress in March 2018 tucked a provision in a spending bill signed by President Trump to strengthen compliance with the national background check system for buying firearms. The measure added incentives for states and federal agencies, including the military, to submit criminal-conviction records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS. Federal law requires agencies to submit relevant records, but at the state level, compliance is voluntary unless mandated by state law or federal funding requirements.
Original story here.