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Giffords Among Bipartisan Group Calling For Expanded Firearm Background Checks

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A bipartisan group of Congresspeople is once again filing a bill that would require background checks for all commercial gun purchases. Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords joined the coalition to introduce the legislation.Giffords, a former Democratic representative who was shot in the head during a 2011 rampage in Arizona that killed six people, says the nation is counting on Congressional leaders to stop gun violence.

“Stopping gun violence takes courage,” Giffords said. “The courage to do what’s right. The courage of new ideas. I’ve seen great courage when my life was on the line. Now is a time to come together. Be responsible. Democrats, Republican, everyone. We must never stop fighting. Fight, fight, fight.”

The Public Safety and Second Amendment Rights Protection Act of 2015 mirrors failed 2013 filings in the House and Senate that would mandate background checks for all commercial gun sales. They are not currently required for gun show or internet purchases. Congressman Bob Dold is a Republican from Illinois.

“It makes sure that dangerous individuals aren’t evading background check requirements by simply going to Google and buying a weapon on the internet,” said Dold.

California Democrat Mike Thompson is a co-author along with Republican Peter King of New York. Thompson says the legislation is meant to use the current national background check system to prevent criminals, domestic abusers and the mentally ill from buying guns.

“It’s pro-Second Amendment,” Thompson said. “I really want to emphasis that. As everybody who’s been following this issue knows I’m pro-Second Amendment. I’m a gun owner. If this bill violated the Second Amendment my name wouldn’t be on it.”

Other supporters of the bill include Democratic Congresswomen Elizabeth Esty of Connecticut and Kathleen Rice of New York. Esty noted during the press conference that she represents Newtown, where in 2012 a shooter killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

“Frankly it’s actually pretty amazing when we consider that we catch any felons,” Esty said. “As Congressman Thompson noted we catch over 200 people a day who are prohibited. But think of those who do not go through. They are disproportionally people who know that they will denied permission if they go through the system.”  

The 2013 Senate bill led by Republican Pat Toomey, Democrat Joe Manchin and New York’s Chuck Schumer was opposed by the National Rifle Association, which said it would have criminalized certain gun transfers between family members and lifelong friends. Both the 2013 and the current legislation states that transfers between licensed spouses, parents and children, aunts and uncles and cousins are exempt from background checks. Fifty-four Senators signed that 2013 bill when Democrats controlled Congress. Sixty votes are needed for passage.

But that year’s House bill was never brought up for a vote. Congressman Thompson, chair of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, is hopeful this time around.

“I sat down with Speaker Boehner in the last session of Congress,” Thompson said. “We had a discussion about this. We’re going to continue to work with him. Hopefully we can get it on the floor.”

The NRA opposes expanding background checks at the federal and state level, saying they won’t stop people who are sent to prison for gun crimes. In an emailed statement, the organization says those people get firearms from theft, straw purchasing or family and friends. Although the legislation states it prohibits a national gun registry, the NRA says expanding background checks is a step toward transforming the system into such a registry. Executive Director Chris Cox says if gun control groups were serious about solving underlying problems they would work to reform what he calls a broken mental health system, not attack gun owners’ rights.

Giffords’ husband astronaut Mark Kelly joined the press conference. Together they have formed Americans for Responsible Solutions. Kelly said in Washington D.C. and the 16 states that require background checks on all handgun sales, 46 percent fewer women are shot to death by intimate partners while there are 48 percent fewer firearm suicides and 48 percent fewer police officers are killed by handguns.

“And when Missouri repealed its background check law in 2007, you know what happened?” Kelly said. “In the next year gun homicides went up by 25 percent.”

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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