House passes bill expanding background checks on firearms sales

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Bipartisanship made it happen in the House and is anticipated in the Senate

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill expanding background checks for gun sales on Thursday. 

Under current law, gun sales conducted by a licensed firearms dealer can only be completed if the buyer clears a background check. The new bill -- H.R.8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021 -- would simply extend that requirement, with limited exceptions, to guns transferred by unlicensed individuals.

"That simple change to close a gaping loophole in the law is one of the most effective steps we can take to address the scourge of gun violence in this country,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said from the House floor on passage of the bill.

"According to one study, 22 percent of gun owners in the U.S. acquired their most recent firearm without a background check. We do not know if they were felons, fugitives, domestic abusers, or otherwise prohibited under the law from possessing firearms. A huge volume of guns was sold with no questions asked. It is time to close this dangerous loophole,” he added.

As the title of the bill infers, it was a bipartisan effort made possible by across-the-aisle handshakes from both Democrats and Republicans. The bill is actually two years old and was first introduced in January 2019 and passed in February 2019. At that point, it “sat on then Senate Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk for the rest of the 116th Congress despite urgent and strong pressure to take up this important legislation,” the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force committee said in a joint news release. 

Exemptions to the bill

The bill has several exemptions that may be of interest to gun owners. Those include:

  • “Law enforcement agency or any law enforcement officer, armed private security professional, or member of the armed forces, to the extent the officer, professional, or member is acting within the course and scope of employment and official duties;”

  • “A transfer that is a loan or bona fide gift between spouses, between domestic partners, between parents and their children, including step-parents and their step-children, between siblings, (etc.), if the transferor has no reason to believe that the transferee will use or intends to use the firearm in a crime or is prohibited from possessing firearms under State or Federal law;”

  • “A transfer to an executor, administrator, trustee, or personal representative of an estate or a trust that occurs by operation of law upon the death of another person;”

  • “A temporary transfer that is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm, including harm to self, family, household members, or others, if the possession by the transferee lasts only as long as immediately necessary to prevent the imminent death or great bodily harm, including the harm of domestic violence, dating partner violence, sexual assault, stalking, and domestic abuse;”

  • “At a shooting range or in a shooting gallery or other area designated for the purpose of target shooting;” and

  • “While reasonably necessary for the purposes of hunting, trapping, or fishing, if the transferor  has no reason to believe that the transferee intends to use the firearm in a place where it is illegal; and has reason to believe that the transferee will comply with all licensing and permit requirements for such hunting, trapping, or fishing.”

Bipartisan agreement hoped for in the Senate

With Democrats now holding a majority in the Senate, the bill has a new opportunity to become a law. Despite opposition from Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he would try to put the background check legislation on the Senate floor.

"H.R. 8 will be on the floor of the Senate, and we will see where everybody stands. No more hopes and prayers,” Schumer told reporters.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CONN), forecast that some Republicans might get behind the bill and give it their support. "You can’t compare 2013 to 2021," he said, referring to a previous effort for gun control. "There are a lot of Republican senators that are thinking about voting for a proposal that allows them to get right on this issue."

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