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New Bills Begin to Move Forward in Congress

LEGISLATIVE ACTION: Enhanced Background Checks Act, Violence Against Women Act, and more!

On March 11, the U.S. House of Representatives approved two bills that seek to reduce the risk and harm of gun violence. H.R. 8 is the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021. If approved by the U.S. Senate, it would change the law to expand the application of background checks for gun purchases. Current law requires background checks for any sales made by licensed dealers and importers. As a result, private sales, including those at gun shows, can avoid background checks. H.R. 8 restricts gun sales to licensed dealers and importers, thereby ending the private sale loophole. Private individuals could sell firearms, but they would need to do so through licensed dealers and importers so that background checks apply (Brown, 2021).

The vote to approve H.R. 8 was 227-203, including eight Republicans who voted in favor of approval. This narrow, partisan-aligned support for the bill in the House suggests a difficult path lies ahead for the proposal in the Senate. A recent national public opinion poll found that 84 percent of Americans favor background checks for all gun purchases. The strong public support for this policy included 91 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of Republicans (Yokley, 2021). It would be nice if senators would take note of this national consensus in support of background checks.

The House also approved H.R. 1446, a bill inspired by a white supremacist’s 2015 mass shooting that killed nine African American Bible study attendees at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. A background check should have blocked that shooter from purchasing his weapon, but current law mandates approval of the purchase if the background check has not been completed in three days. The new proposal would close the so-called “Charleston loophole” by expanding the time period for background checks to 10 days and placing an affirmative obligation on the purchaser to specifically request that the FBI complete the background check before the delayed transaction can be finalized (Brown, 2021). The vote in the House was 219 to 210. This is likely to be a very contentious issue in the Senate. However, unlike in some prior sessions of Congress in which the majority leader in the Senate blocked consideration of gun-related legislation, the current majority leader promises to bring background check proposals to a vote.

Earlier in the same week, Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) introduced a legislative proposal to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act; a reauthorization that got bogged down in disagreements in recent sessions of Congress. The bill provides funding for prevention and services related to domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and related matters. In addition, the bill seeks to close a gun-related loophole that poses risks for gun violence. As described in one news analysis:

A provision that would close the “boyfriend loophole,” prohibiting dating partners convicted of assault or stalking from purchasing firearms, has been a sticking point between Democrats and Republicans. The new bill would prohibit those convicted of misdemeanor stalking from buying a firearm and makes it illegal for a person to transfer or sell a firearm or ammunition to a person they believe has been convicted of misdemeanor stalking. (Duster, 2021)

A prior version of the bill passed the House with limited bipartisan support in 2019, as 33 Republican representatives supported passage before the proposal died in the Senate. Because then-Senator Joe Biden was the sponsor of the original Violence Against Women Act enacted by Congress in 1994, observers are interested to see whether his presidential administration will prioritize the reauthorization by using its influence to push for approval (Duster, 2021).

Americans are understandably focused on current legislative debates related to the pandemic, the economy, and other matters of national significance. It can be difficult to keep abreast of policy initiatives concerning gun violence when news media attention is directed to other topics. It is worthwhile, however, for voters to make the effort to remain informed about current developments for their issues of interest so they can consider what to communicate to government officials about neglected policy priorities.

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Christopher E. Smith, J.D., Ph.D.
MCPGV Board President

SOURCES:

Brown, M. “House Passes Bill to Expand Background Checks for Gun Sales and Close ‘Charleston Loophole.’” USA Today, March 11, 2021.

Duster, C. “Congress Moves to Reauthorize Violence Against Women Act.” CNN, March 9, 2021.

Yokley, E. “Voters Are Nearly United in Support for Expanded Background Checks,” Morning Consult, March 10, 2021.

 

GUNS DON'T BELONG IN THE CAPITOL.

The Michigan Capitol Commission voted unanimously to support a limited prohibition on citizen-carried firearms inside the state Capitol. However, this ban does not apply to the Capitol grounds or to individuals with conceal carry permits. While an important first step, the Capitol Commission has a long way to go. Show your support and urge your representatives to ban all citizen firearms on the Capitol grounds!

Let’s make our voices heard and put an end to this dangerous practice!

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