House passes bill to expand background checks for gun sales

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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., holds a news conference on passage of gun violence prevention legislation, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, March 11, 2021, as Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., looks on. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON – Emboldened by their majorities in the House and Senate, Democrats are making a new push to enact the first major new gun control laws in more than two decades -- starting with stricter background checks.

The House passed two bills Thursday to require background checks on all firearms sales and transfers and to allow an expanded 10-day review for gun purchases. Similar bills were passed by the House in 2019, shortly after Democrats won the majority, but languished in the GOP-controlled Senate for the next two years.

Democrats now hold the Senate, as well, giving the party hope as the legislation will at least be considered. But the bills would need significant bipartisan support to pass.

The renewed push is the latest effort by Democrats – and some Republicans – who have repeatedly tried, and failed, to pass tougher gun control laws since the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that killed 20 children and six educators. While enhanced background checks are generally popular with the American public, even with some conservatives, Congress has so far not been able to find compromise on the issue. It is unclear whether Senate Democrats could find deep enough support among Republicans to pass new gun control legislation in a 50-50 Senate, as they would need 60 votes to do so.

Still, the bills are part of an effort by Democrats to move on several major legislative priorities while they hold both chambers of Congress and the White House. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday that the Republican “legislative graveyard is over” and that the bill to require background checks on all firearms sales will have a vote in the Senate.

“A vote is what we need,” Schumer said, and they will find out where Republicans stand.

“Maybe we’ll get the votes,” he said. “And if we don't, we’ll come together as a caucus and figure it out how we are going to get this done. But we have to get it done.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who has been working on gun legislation with Schumer since the 1990s when they were in the House together, said she and her colleagues have promised survivors of shootings and family members of those who have died that “we are not going away” until the background checks legislation passes.