For the first time in a generation, the US House has voted to tighten federal laws on gun sales and background checks. It took massacres at two schools, a church, a synagogue, an outdoor concert, and a nightclub to bring about that change. It also took the congressional election of 2018.
So what will it take for the Republican-led US Senate to realize that public opinion has shifted so overwhelmingly in favor of stricter gun laws that the status quo is no longer an option?
The first of two House votes came Wednesday on a bill to close the so-called gun show loophole, requiring background checks on virtually every gun sale or transfer, no matter where it takes place, and allowing exemptions only for transfers between family members. It passed by a vote of 240-190, with eight Republicans voting for it.
A companion bill, approved Thursday, 228-198, would extend the amount of time the FBI has to complete those background checks prior to purchase, from the current three days to 10 business days. It closes what has become known as the “Charleston loophole” in the wake of the 2015 Charleston, S.C., church shooting that claimed nine lives. In that case, the shooter was allowed to buy a gun, in spite of a felony drug conviction, simply because of a records delay.
Among those helping to shepard both bills through was Massachusetts congressman Jim McGovern, newly minted chair of the House Rules Committee, who took to the House floor to deplore the lack of action on proposals that have taken more than 20 years to come up for a vote.
“The time for inaction is over,” he told House colleagues. “Listen to the young people in your districts! They are not content with a future where gun violence is the norm. They want and deserve better.”
He accused Republicans on the Rules Committee of working overtime to gut the universal background check bill, adding, “This is modest reform in the right direction.”
But as modest as it is, it will be an uphill climb in the Senate to convince enough Republicans to listen to the outcry from their own constituents over the generations-long rigidity of the National Rifle Association and its unprincipled cheerleader in the White House.
President Trump, the recipient of more than $11 million in NRA money in 2016, has threatened to veto both bills.
The inconvenient fact for those accustomed to doing the NRA’s bidding is that support for universal background checks is, well, virtually universal. A recent Quinnipiac University Poll found that 97 percent of those surveyed — including gun owners — favor universal background checks. Support for stricter gun laws has increased by 19 points just in the last two years. According to pollsters, it’s at its highest level of support since the poll started focusing on the issue, following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, in Connecticut in 2012.
How many more mass shootings will it take before Congress realizes that offering up “thoughts and prayers” to those who have lost loved ones isn’t really enough. It wasn’t enough for the students of Parkland, Fla., and it shouldn’t be enough for senators of either party.
The key to that vote is two-fold: Democrats in the Senate will have to be as united as they were in House ; and outside groups will have to marshal their power and their money in the same way the NRA has done for years.
Everytown for Gun Safety, founded and largely funded by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, is expected to put some $400,000 into ads calling for support of the two bills. But it will take citizen involvement and pressure to make this happen in the Senate. Helping senators of both parties find their political courage is now everyone’s job.