WASHINGTON (AP) — The Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a measure requiring federal background checks for all firearms sales and transfers, the first major gun control legislation considered by Congress in nearly 25 years.
Democrats called the 240-190 vote a major step to end the gun lobby’s grip on Washington. Republicans say the bill would infringe upon 2nd Amendment rights.
The federal legislation mirrors gun control bills pending in the New Mexico Legislature that have resulted in 13 counties declaring themselves 2nd Amendment sanctuary counties, and 29 of the state’s 33 sheriffs expressing opposition to the legislation, saying it’s unconstitutonal.
U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-Las Cruces, voted in favor of House Resolution 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, calling it a common sense, bipartisan gun safety measure. She said the bill closes a gun-show loophole in federal gun background check laws and requires background checks for gun sales between two unrelated people.
The bill also includes exemptions for transfers between family members, as well as loans for friends going to the sporting range or on a hunt.
“Like a majority of gun owners across America, I believe in common sense gun safety measures, which is why I supported HR 8,” Torres Small said in a news release issued Wednesday. “While protecting our 2nd amendment rights, this bill ensures that dangerous individuals can no longer exploit the gun-show loophole to buy a gun while also making smart exemptions to prevent burdensome regulations for transfers between family and friends. The measures in this bipartisan bill strike a balance that will help to keep our communities safe and our rights protected.”
The federal bill is the first of two the House is voting on this week as Democrats move to tighten gun laws following eight years of Republican control. The other bill would extend the review period for background checks from three to 10 days.
Both bills face dim prospects in the Republican-controlled Senate and veto threats from President Donald Trump, who said they would impose unreasonable requirements on gun owners.
Just eight Republicans joined 232 Democrats to support the bill, while only two Democrats voted against it.
The White House said in a veto message the background-checks bill could block someone from borrowing a firearm for self-defense or allowing a neighbor to take care of a gun while traveling.
Democrats called those arguments misleading and said gun owners have a responsibility to ensure firearms are properly handled. The bill includes exceptions allowing temporary transfers to prevent imminent harm or for use at a target range.
The long-delayed bill would merely close loopholes to ensure that background checks are extended to private and online sales that often go undetected, Democrats said.
While Republicans mostly opposed the bill, the GOP scored a procedural victory when the House accepted a Republican amendment requiring gun sellers notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement when an illegal immigrant tries to buy a gun. Twenty-six Democrats joined with Republicans to support the amendment, offered by Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi downplayed the GOP proposal, saying, “We won a big victory — get the message.”
Pelosi, D-Calif., called the House vote “historic” and hailed the bill as “a long-overdue, commonsense action to end the epidemic of gun violence in America.”
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., who was gravely wounded in a 2017 shooting at a congressional baseball practice, said stricter background checks would not have prevented his shooting or other tragedies.
“What it would do is make criminals out of law-abiding citizens,” Scalise said. “If you go hunting with a friend and your friend wants to borrow your rifle, you better bring your attorney with you because depending on what you do with that gun you may be a felon if you loan it to him.”
Democrats said the bill includes exceptions allowing temporary transfers for anyone who feels threatened by a domestic partner or other person. The bill also allows a gun owner to loan their weapon and for use at a target range.
Collins, the top Republican on the Judiciary panel, said the bill “foolishly presumes criminals who flout existing laws will suddenly submit themselves to background checks.”
Democrats and other bill supporters are “delusional” if they think “a criminal trading cocaine to another criminal for a firearm will reconsider due to” the background checks bill, he said.
But Kris Brown, president of Brady, a gun control group formerly known as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said the bill will save lives.
Brown called the House vote “a monumental step forward for gun violence prevention in our country” and hailed Thompson and other lawmakers who pushed for the measure.
“On to the Senate!” she said.
The Hobbs News-Sun contributed to this report.