House Passes Gun Control Bills to Strengthen Background Checks

The legislation has broad support among voters, but is expected to join a growing list of progressive priorities languishing in the Senate amid Republican opposition.

WASHINGTON — The House approved a pair of bills on Thursday aimed at expanding and strengthening background checks for gun buyers, as Democrats pushed past Republican opposition to advance major gun safety measures after decades of congressional inaction.

In two votes that fell largely along party lines, the House passed legislation that would require background checks for all gun buyers, and extend the time the F.B.I. has to vet those flagged by the national instant check system.

Despite being widely popular with voters, the measures face what is expected to be insurmountable opposition in the Senate, where Republicans have resisted imposing any limits on guns, including stricter background check requirements.

The House voted 227 to 203 to approve the expansion of background checks, and 219 to 210 to give federal law enforcement more time to vet gun buyers.

Both pieces of legislation are aimed at addressing gaps in existing gun laws, including the so-called Charleston loophole, which restricts to three days the period the F.B.I. has to conduct a background check, allowing many buyers to evade them. The provision allowed Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who killed nine people in 2015 at a historically Black church in Charleston, S.C., to buy a handgun even though he should have been barred from doing so. The bill would extend the amount of time the F.B.I. has to complete a check for an additional week, to 10 days.

The other measure passed on Thursday would require buyers shopping for firearms online or at gun shows to have their backgrounds vetted before they could receive the weapon. They are not currently required to do so, although in-person buyers, who make up the majority of such transactions, are.

“Let’s not add more names to this registry of grief,” Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat, said, reading from a lengthy list of recent mass shootings and noting that they had fallen sharply in the past year. “Let’s not rely on a pandemic to do what we ought to have done so long ago. Let’s pass these bills and reduce gun violence the right way.”

Democrats first passed the legislation in 2019, shortly after they recaptured control of the House, making it a centerpiece of their agenda as they sought to capitalize on an outpouring of student activism in favor of stricter gun safety measures after a school shooting in 2018 in Parkland, Fla. Polling then and now, conducted by multiple companies, shows that over 80 percent of voters support the legislation.

Last month, President Biden called on Congress to enact the bills in a statement commemorating the third anniversary of the Parkland shooting.

“This administration will not wait for the next mass shooting to heed that call,” he said.

On Thursday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and many other House Democrats wore orange clothing or face masks in solidarity with the gun safety movement, erupting in applause on the floor when the bills passed.

Still, the legislation will join a growing stack of items on the liberal agenda that are widely popular with voters but appear destined to languish in the 50-50 Senate, where Democrats must win the support of 10 Republicans to pass most major measures. It is part of a concerted strategy by Democrats to increase pressure on those in their ranks who are resistant to eliminating the legislative filibuster, and to force Republicans to take politically unpopular votes before the 2022 midterm elections.

“A vote is what we need, not hopes and prayers,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said on Thursday during a news conference. “We will see where people stand.”

In a statement, Brian M. Lemek, the executive director of the Brady political action committee, which supports candidates who endorse universal background checks, said the group would “make sure every voter knows and doesn’t forget who did and did not vote for this lifesaving piece of legislation.” The group plans to spend “upwards of $10 million” in the coming midterm election cycle, a spokeswoman said.

House Republicans almost uniformly opposed the measures, arguing that the legislation would not make it harder for criminals to improperly receive weapons, but would impose a significant burden on law-abiding citizens attempting to purchase a firearm.

“These rights protect my life, liberty, and property,” said Representative Burgess Owens, Republican of Utah. “They were granted to me by God; they cannot be taken away from me by D.C. bureaucrats.”

Eight Republicans voted to advance the universal background legislation, while one Democrat, Representative Jared Golden of Maine, opposed it. Two Republicans supported extending the length of checks from three to 10 days, while two Democrats, Mr. Golden and Ron Kind of Wisconsin, broke with their party to oppose it.

Gun sales have surged in the past year, requiring the F.B.I. to conduct more background checks than before, according to data obtained by Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit dedicated to antigun violence. That data showed that over 10 months in 2020, the F.B.I. reported 5,807 sales to prohibited buyers through the Charleston loophole, more than in any other entire calendar year.



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