By Tim Walker
This week, the U.S. House of Representatives did something it hasn’t done in almost a generation: pass a federal gun safety law. On Wednesday, the full House passed, by a 240-190 vote, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act (H.R. 8), in the process taking a long overdue step in standing up to the gun lobby and getting around to the business of protecting our schools from gun violence.
What Exactly Does the Bill Do?
Under current law, only federally licensed vendors must conduct background checks. Private sellers are not required to do so. The Bipartisan Background Checks Act would require background checks in private sales, including gun shows and online transactions. The bill would ensure that all sales (with a few exceptions) are run through the national criminal background check system.
As two former GOP congressman, Ryan Costello and Carlos Curbelo, recently wrote in The Washington Post in support of the legislation: “This bill doesn’t take away anyone’s guns, create a firearms registry or threaten the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens. … It represents a critical step in the right direction, at a time when more and more Americans are touched by gun violence.”
How Would It Reduce Gun Violence?
For the nation’s schools, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Since 2013, there have been at least 400 incidents of gunfire on school grounds, leading to 109 fatalities and 291 injuries. According to federal data, there were 94 gun incidents at U.S. schools in 2018, the most since the government began tracking the data in 1970.
If signed into law, a bill requiring background checks could put a large dent in illegal sales of firearms and help keep guns out of the wrong hands.
A recent investigation by Everytown for Gun Safety uncovered nearly 1.2 million ads on Armslist – the “largest free gun classifieds on the web” – for firearm sales that have no legal requirement for a background check. The investigation also found that one in nine people seeking to buy a gun from an unlicensed seller were legally prohibited from buying or possessing a gun — and would have failed a background check at a licensed gun dealer.
“Allowing online gun buyers to skip a background check is like having two security lines at the airport: one for people who are willing to be screened, and one you can waltz right through packing whatever you want,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety.
Where Does the U.S. Public Stand?
Poll after poll all show the same result: the American people overwhelmingly support universal background checks. According to a 2018 poll by Quinnipiac University, 97 percent of respondents support the policy. Even among gun owners polled, support remained at 97 percent. Other polls show support running well over 80 percent.
Among National Education Association members, 99 percent of NEA members favor universal background checks. Overall, 77 percent believe it is too easy to obtain a gun in the United States and favor a range of solutions to limit access.
What Happens Next?
Without question, the passage of a strong federal gun safety bill in the House of Representatives marks a notable shift in momentum for common sense gun laws.
Still, the outlook in the Senate for the universal background checks bill is bleak. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may even to refuse to even bring it to a vote, and even if the bill were to pass both chambers, President Trump will likely veto it.
But lawmakers who support H.R. 8 believe passage in the House sends a clear message to their counterparts in the Senate that the American public is demanding action on gun safety. While it will be an uphill climb to get the votes to pass the bill in the Senate, it is necessary to keep pushing.
“The House of Representatives took the first real, concrete step toward ending gun violence,” NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia said after the bill’s passage. “The bipartisan bill on background checks for gun purchases offers more than ‘thoughts and prayers’ to keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of dangerous individuals and, most importantly, keep students safer.”