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House Democrats unveil bill to expand background checks for gun sales

Updated January 8, 2019 - 11:25 pm

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled a bipartisan bill Tuesday that would expand background checks for gun sales.

It is the first gun control bill in the new House and a top priority for Democrats, including those from Nevada who vividly remember the mass shooting on the Las Vegas Strip.

The bill is considered the first of several expected to be pushed by the new Democratic majority in the House, although legislation to curb or restrict firearms could still face hurdles in the GOP-controlled Senate.

Pelosi introduced the bill with former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., on the eighth anniversary of a mass shooting in Tucson that left Giffords seriously wounded and others dead in a shopping center parking lot.

Pelosi said Democrats would press for progress “to end the epidemic of gun violence on our streets, in our schools and in our places of worship.”

“Enough is enough,” she said.

A companion bill was filed in the Senate by Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., whose state suffered a horrific tragedy in December 2012 when 20 grade schoolers were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

The bill would close a loophole that allows people to buy weapons without background checks from private individuals or at gun shows, said Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., who co-sponsored the Senate bill.

“We owe it to victims and families affected by gun violence — in Las Vegas, Newtown and across America — to pass this common-sense gun safety measure to help address the epidemic of gun violence,” Cortez Masto said.

But Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus, said the only thing the “Pelosi gun grab would accomplish is to make it tougher for law-abiding citizens to protect themselves and their families.”

Nevada Democrats in Congress back gun control legislation as a means to reduce mass shootings and gun deaths.

Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., is working with Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican from Pennsylvania and former FBI agent, to reintroduce their legislation that would ban the manufacture and sale of bump stocks, the devices used in the Oct. 1, 2017, tragedy in Las Vegas.

The Las Vegas mass shooting, the worst in modern U.S. history, left 58 people dead and more than 800 concertgoers wounded when a lone gunman used the bump stocks to accelerate the rate of fire from semi-automatic rifles as he shot from a hotel room into a country music festival below.

“Expanding background checks will save lives,” Titus said. “Preventing dangerous people from purchasing deadly weapons is a key part of our plan to keep our communities safe, and that includes my legislative efforts to ban bump stocks and similar devices.”

Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., signed on as a co-sponsor to the House bill. He also joined the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force.

Horsford’s life was changed by gun violence. He was just 19 when his father was shot and killed by a man who tried to rob a store where his father worked.

“It was one of the more difficult things I had to experience,” Horsford said.

He also noted the Oct. 1 tragedy and the pain suffered by families, friends and the community.

“Gun violence is an issue that touches all of us,” Horsford said.

The lone Republican in the delegation, Rep. Mark Amodei, has backed party leaders who oppose legislative restrictions on gun purchases. He sought administrative efforts to tighten restrictions on bump stocks through a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms reclassification that declared the devices illegal.

That administrative ruling is being challenged by Gun Owners of America in federal court in Michigan.

The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019 was unveiled by Pelosi and Giffords, who was one of 13 people shot by a deranged gunman in a Tucson shopping center parking lot in January 2011.

Since then, the former congresswoman has become a gun control advocate.

“Just a few weeks ago,” Giffords said, “we learned the news that nearly 40,000 people died from gun violence in the past year,” the most gun deaths “in nearly four decades.”

Giffords said she is thrilled the House “will no longer sit silent as our nation reels from the growing gun violence epidemic.”

Although Congress has vowed legislative fixes after recent mass shootings, it has failed to act on legislation restricting purchases, banning weapons or devices like bump stocks.

Congress passed legislation that expanded federal and state reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, known as the Fix NICS bill, in response to the 2017 church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

But GOP leaders blocked other gun control legislation in committee in the House in the last Congress.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., who heads the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, said Tuesday there is “a new majority” as he stood with Pelosi and Giffords to unveil the background check legislation.

“We will hold hearings, we will have a vote, and this legislation will finally pass the House,” Thompson said.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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