The US House of Representatives approved two bills this week to toughen background checks for gun purchases, but both bills are likely to face opposition from the Republican-controlled Senate and the White House.
The bills are the first major gun control measures approved in Congress in many years. They are an early move to address gun violence by Democrats after capturing majority control of the House in the November 2018 congressional midterm elections.
The Senate remains controlled by Republicans, many of whom are closely allied with the National Rifle Association (NRA) and gun-rights voters, who fiercely defend what they see as their constitutional right to own firearms.
Although Republican President Donald Trump has said he supports stronger background checks, he has thus far toed the party line on gun control legislation, leaving Washington deadlocked on how to address frequent mass shootings in the United States.
Wednesday’s bill would expand background checks to include firearm purchases at gun shows and over the internet. It was approved 240-190.
Thursday’s background check bill, which passed 228-198, would extend the number of days government authorities have to complete a background check before a gun sale. It stems from the 2015 shooting at Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina, where nine black worshippers died in 2015 at the hands of a white supremacist. A faulty background check allowed the attacker’s firearm purchase after the required three-day review period expired.
Both votes were largely passed along party lines.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the House’s vote on Wednesday “historic” and hailed the legislation as “a long-overdue, common-sense action to end the epidemic of gun violence in America”.
Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a group calling for stricter gun control, also welcomed the vote, tweeting that the measure “is proof we have loosened the gun lobby’s grip on Congress”.
But the NRA called Wednesday’s bill “extreme”, saying it “will make criminals out of law-abiding Americans”.
The Republicans’ obstacle
Both bills face dim prospects in the Republican-controlled Senate and veto threats from President Donald Trump, who said the bills would impose unreasonable requirements on gun owners.
The White House said that the legislation could block someone from borrowing a firearm for self-defence or allowing a neighbour to take care of a gun while travelling.
Democrats called those arguments misleading and said gun owners have a responsibility to ensure firearms are properly handled. Wednesday’s bill includes exceptions allowing temporary transfers to prevent imminent harm or for use at a target range.
Doug Collins, the top Republican on the Judiciary panel, said Wednesday’s bill “foolishly presumes criminals who flout existing laws will suddenly submit themselves to background checks”.
Democrats and other bill supporters are “delusional” if they think “a criminal trading cocaine to another criminal for a firearm will reconsider due to” the background checks bill, he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recorded 39,773 gun deaths in 2017 across the country, an increase of more than 1,000 from the previous year. The number was the largest in the CDC’s 50-year-long database.
Nearly 24,000 of the gun deaths in 2017 were suicides, while about 14,500 were homicides. Data from 2018 is not available.
Three of the deadliest mass shootings in US modern history have taken place since October 2017.