Yes, the House Actually Passed Gun Legislation

Reread that headline all you want, because it happened.

A customer shops for a pistol at Freddie Bear Sports sporting goods store on December 17, 2012 in Tinley Park, Illinois. 
National Journal
Elahe Izadi
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Elahe Izadi
May 30, 2014, 10:51 a.m.

Something seem­ingly im­possible happened in Wash­ing­ton this week: The House ap­proved a meas­ure that gun-con­trol ad­voc­ates like.

In a 260-145 vote, the House ap­proved an amend­ment Thursday night from Demo­crat­ic Rep. Mike Thompson of Cali­for­nia to provide $19.5 mil­lion to ex­pand the FBI’s Na­tion­al In­stant Crim­in­al Back­ground Check Sys­tem (NICS). States ac­cess the fed­er­al data­base when they pro­cess gun sales, and the money is in­ten­ded to pre­vent crim­in­als and the men­tally ill from pur­chas­ing guns.

This happened in the same le­gis­lat­ive body that ended up passing nearly no gun le­gis­la­tion in the wake of the Sandy Hook Ele­ment­ary School shoot­ing. In fact, Con­gress did just one thing re­lated to guns since the 2012 mass shoot­ing: In Decem­ber 2013 it re­newed an ex­pir­ing ban on plastic guns, al­though law­makers voted down tough­en­ing reg­u­la­tions on such guns.

Even mod­est gun pro­vi­sions, like some of those in­cluded in the gun le­gis­la­tion the Sen­ate took up in the wake of the Sandy Hook shoot­ing, have been met with fierce op­pos­i­tion from gun-rights groups.

Thompson’s amend­ment to fisc­al 2015 Com­merce, Justice, and Sci­ence Ap­pro­pri­ations bill didn’t face such op­pos­i­tion; the Na­tion­al Rifle As­so­ci­ation was neut­ral on it.

NRA lead­er Wayne LaPierre has pre­vi­ously said that his group is op­posed to uni­ver­sal back­ground checks and new gun laws be­cause the gov­ern­ment doesn’t fully en­force ex­ist­ing laws, and the NICS was a fail­ure be­cause vi­ol­at­ors are rarely pro­sec­uted.

The Thompson amend­ment passed with 76 Re­pub­lic­ans vot­ing along with nearly all Demo­crats. It is part of an ap­pro­pri­ations pack­age the House ap­proved; the Sen­ate will con­sider its own broad fund­ing pack­age, and the two cham­bers will re­con­cile their bills later this year.

“Our na­tion­al crim­in­al back­ground check sys­tem is only as good as the data you put in it, and right now all the in­form­a­tion isn’t get­ting in­to the sys­tem,” the amend­ment’s co­spon­sors said in a state­ment. “When this hap­pens, we can’t en­force the law, and crim­in­als, do­mest­ic ab­users, or dan­ger­ously men­tally ill in­di­vidu­als who oth­er­wise wouldn’t pass a back­ground check can slip through the cracks and buy guns.”

Thompson in­tro­duced an­oth­er bill Fri­day meant to keep the severely men­tally ill from get­ting guns. The meas­ure would ex­pand the list of those pro­hib­ited from pur­chas­ing guns.

But there aren’t many sig­nals yet that the mod­est boost to Amer­ica’s ex­ist­ing back­ground-check sys­tem means oth­er gun bills will like­wise pass the House.

“I want to think this is a ma­jor vic­tory, and I want to be­lieve that it opens the door for more com­pre­hens­ive gun safety le­gis­la­tion, but it’s very dif­fi­cult to say,” said Demo­crat­ic Rep. Eli­jah Cum­mings, a long­stand­ing pro­ponent of new gun laws. “We know for a fact that whenev­er there are any is­sues re­gard­ing guns, no mat­ter how com­mon sense they seem, and no mat­ter how prac­tic­al they seem, the NRA finds a way to at­tack the pro­pos­als.”

Cum­mings ad­ded: “It’s so sad that our nor­mal now is for [this amend­ment passing] to be shock­ing.”

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