The House sent two bills to the Senate Thursday that would implement universal background checks and close the loophole linked to the 2015 mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina.
“Gun violence is devastating our communities. Every day, 30 people are killed by someone using a gun, a number that jumps to 100 if you factor in accidents and suicides involving guns,” Rep. Mike Thompson, D-California, the sponsor of the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021. said in a statement.
Thompson’s bill was passed 227-203, with one Democrat voting against it and eight Republicans voting for it.The legislation would expand background checks on all firearm sales, closing the so-called gun show loophole and regulating online private sales.
“Background checks work, and expanding them would only make more people safe from gun violence,” Thompson said.
A second measure, the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021, passed 219-210, with two Republicans voting for and two Democrats voting against it.
This bill would nullify the “Charleston loophole” in federal law that allows for the sale of firearms to proceed even if a background check has not been completed after three business days. Instead, the new proposal would increase the waiting period from three days to 10.
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-South Carolina, the author of the bill, said this “gap” in the law allowed a white supremacist to carry out the 2015 mass-shooting of nine people at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
“These people who were practicing their faith, their faith that taught them to welcome in a stranger, a stranger came to their door and they welcomed into their Bible study, he sat with them for an hour,” Clyburn said on the House floor. “The stranger that they had welcomed in had opened fire and killed nine of them, one of whom was the pastor, a former intern of mine.”
Clyburn said his bill, if it had been the law at the time, would have prevented the shooter from getting a gun.
Jason Ouimet, executive director of the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action, said the bills are transparent attempts to restrict Americans’ rights under the guise of addressing the country’s violent crime culture in a statement released after the vote.
“By giving full power to unelected government bureaucrats to indefinitely delay and prevent lawful firearm transfers, (the Clyburn bill) could ultimately destroy the Second Amendment rights guaranteed to every law-abiding American by turning it into a privilege enjoyed by a select few,” Ouimet said.
He also said that the universal background checks in Thompson’s legislation could not be enforced without a federal gun registry.
Both bills are headed to a contentious Senate where passage will be an uphill battle. Ten Republicans – as well as all 50 Democrats – would need to support the proposals to pass them.
Legislation addressing the “Charleston loophole” left the House in 2019 but was stalled after then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, did not bring it up for a vote.
In a press conference Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said the Senate would vote on the matter.
“Last time it went to Mitch McConnell’s legislative graveyard,” Schumer said. “The legislative graveyard is over. We will see where everybody stands. No more thoughts and prayers. A vote is what we need.”
Republicans argue that the bills are unconstitutional and inadequate.
Rep. Dan Meuser, R-Pennsylvania, voted against both bills, saying they would threaten the Second Amendment and do nothing to keep Americans safer.
“These bills are being sold to the public as an effort to pass universal background checks, but House Democrats fail to recognize that every commercial gun sale in the United States already has a background check,” Meuser said after the vote. “Once again, Democrat leadership is proposing legislation that would do nothing to prevent criminals from accessing firearms, while greatly restricting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.”
Republicans warn that Americans would suffer from the “ridiculous” criminal penalties that the Democrats’ legislation would put in place.
“For instance, if you loaned a friend a rifle to go hunting, they could face a year in prison and a $100,000 fine,” Meuser said. “The same would be true if you loan an abuse victim a firearm for self-defense. (Clyburn’s proposal) would create arbitrary delays for firearms purchases and could allow the FBI to delay a firearm transfer indefinitely.”
Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-North Dakota, said the two bills punish private citizens and add layers of red tape and delay for those who need immediate access to firearms for protection.
No date has been set yet for discussions to begin in the Senate. Once the bills arrive, Democrats will either have to secure a new wave of bipartisan support or likely deal with a Republican filibuster that would take 60 votes to stop.
Nicole Hockley, whose son Dylan was among the 20 children and six adults killed in a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, said in a statement “we need to put all we’ve got” into passing the background checks measures.
“This is our best chance in eight years to finally make this commonsense reform a reality,” said Hockley, who is with Sandy Hook Promise Action Fund.