House to hold first major vote in years

WASHINGTON – Lori Haas couldn’t contain her frustration the last time Congress voted on expanding background checks for gun purchases.

“Shame on you!” she shouted at senators in 2013 when a bill to extend background checks to private transactions at gun shows and over the internet failed.

Haas, whose daughter survived two bullet wounds to the head during the shooting massacre on the Virginia Tech campus in 2007, will have a different reaction when the House votes Wednesday on similar legislation.

That bill, along with another extending the time a dealer has to wait for a response from the background check system before completing a sale, is expected to pass the Democrat-led House.

“It’s about time,” Haas said.

The legislation is not, however, likely to be brought up for a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Still, gun-control advocates believe the political tide has turned. They say voters in the midterm elections replaced House members who had perfect ratings from the National Rifle Association with lawmakers who support expanding gun-control laws. And they argue that trend will continue.

“If we can’t change their minds about how to prevent gun violence, then we’ll change their titles,” said Patricia Maisch, who helped take down the shooter during the 2011 Tucson, Arizona, shooting that killed six people and injured 13 others, including former Rep. Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords.

More: What’s in the gun control bills that House Democrats will bring to a vote this week

House Republicans, however, held a defiant press conference Tuesday featuring gun-rights advocates and crime victims, including Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, the No. 2 House Republican, who said the legislation would not have stopped the gunman who shot him at a congressional baseball game practice in 2017.

Shayne Lopez–Rivas, a 24-year-old from Tallahassee, Florida, shared her story of being raped on a college campus in 2014 by a man with a knife.

“Had I been armed that night,” she said, “I am confident things would’ve been different.”

Opponents say background checks don’t stop criminals from getting guns, but do make it harder for law-abiding citizens to defend themselves.

The votes will be the first major gun-control action in the House in years. And the bills are being considered on the eve of the 25th anniversary of federal background checks going into effect to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.

Advocates say the law needs to be updated because too many transactions have been exempted.

“The intent of the Brady Law was to ensure that a background check be conducted before every gun sale,” said Kris Brown, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Polls show extending background checks to include gun shows and the internet has wide support, even among Republicans and gun owners.

But supporters say it was the legions of activists across the country who made the issue a priority, including in last year’s elections, that prompted the House action.

In what the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics dubbed one of the biggest surprises of the midterm elections, gun control groups outspent pro-gun groups. 

“My predecessor in this office wasn’t willing to do anything about the gun violence crisis,” said Colorado Rep. Jason Crow, one of the freshman Democrats whose promise of gun control helped him flip a Republican seat in November.

Crow’s district was affected by two major mass shootings, the 1999 Columbine High School massacre and the 2012 Aurora Theater shooting.

California Rep. Mike Thompson, chair of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, said the House will hold hearings on what other actions lawmakers can take.

Steps that groups like the Brady Campaign are looking for include significantly funding gun violence prevention research, encouraging people to make sure guns in their homes are secure, and examining gunmakers’ liability protections.

“We appreciate this start,” said Brown, the Brady Campaign president. “But it’s just the beginning.”

And with each mass shooting, the number of activists grows.

Shaundelle Brooks never thought she’d be fighting for gun control, but after her son Akilah Dasilva was one of four people killed at a shooting at a Tennessee Waffle House in 2018, Brooks became an advocate.

Dasilva, a rap artist and music video producer, had spoken against gun violence. Now his mother has taken up the cause.

“The way that he died, it’s like how can you not?” she said. “I don’t want anyone else to feel that.”


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