Thompson Presses for Vote on Background Checks Act

March 31, 2023 by Dan McCue
Thompson Presses for Vote on Background Checks Act
An an entry to Covenant School has become a memorial for shooting victims, Tuesday, March 28, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/John Amis)

WASHINGTON — Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., is asking House and Senate leaders to call a vote on tougher gun purchase background checks in the wake of the tragic mass shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee.

Thompson, a Blue Dog Democrat who chairs the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, reintroduced the bipartisan bill with Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., last month.

The proposed legislation builds on the existing Brady Background Checks system, established over 25 years ago, by expanding background checks to virtually all firearm purchases. 

Thompson has put forth some version of it in every Congress since the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary shooting which killed 20 children and six adult staff members. 

The latest iteration of the Bipartisan Background Checks Act was first introduced in the 116th Congress by Thompson and passed in the House by a vote of 240-190.

It again passed in the 117th Congress and passed the House by a vote of 227-203. But the bill languished in the Senate due to the filibuster.

“Congress has the power to help save lives and reduce gun violence,” Thompson said in a written statement this week. 

“The shooting in Nashville is a horrific tragedy that is going to leave a lasting impact on the students, teachers, staff, and the entire Covenant School community. It does not have to be like this, we can act and pass legislation to save lives,” he said.

“When will Republican leadership have the guts to stand up to the gun lobby and join us in passing reforms that will help keep our kids safe in school and save lives?” Thompson added rhetorically. 

“Let’s put my Bipartisan Background Checks Act up for a vote and get it to President Biden. This legislation will reduce gun violence, and if my colleagues truly care about protecting American children, this is an easy step for them to take,” he said.

“Our communities will be safer with the expansion of background checks for firearm sales under this bill,” Fitzpatrick said when he and Thompson reintroduced the bill on Feb. 1. 

“Background checks are a simple preventive measure that are proven to help our law enforcement keep guns out of the hands of criminals. This bipartisan legislation will prevent felons, domestic abusers and dangerously mentally ill citizens from obtaining a firearm, while protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans. I’m proud to support these commonsense reforms,” he said.

In a video statement released late Tuesday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee called on Tennesseans to pray for the three children and three adults slain in the latest mass shooting to shock the nation, but added: “Prayer is the first thing we should do, but it’s not the only thing.”

He made no mention of guns or gun laws but vowed to take action. He said that his wife had been friends with two of the victims in Monday’s shooting and that the three had once taught together.

“We can all agree on one thing, that every human has great value,” said the Republican governor. “And we will act to prevent this from happening again. There’s a clear desire in all of us, whether we agree on the action steps or not, that we must work to find ways to protect against evil.”

But even as the governor recorded his message, a federal judge was quietly clearing the way to drop the minimum age for Tennesseans to carry handguns publicly without a permit to 18 — just two years after a new law set the age at 21.

Republican lawmakers have introduced a number of bills this year that, among other things, would make it easier to arm teachers and allow college students to carry weapons on campus. 

Democratic-led efforts to strengthen gun safety measures have gained less traction. 

On Tuesday, lawmakers delayed taking up any of the contentious gun-related bills, saying they wanted to offer respect to the community.

It was Lee who championed the passage of the 2021 law that allowed most adults 21 and older to carry handguns without first obtaining a permit that requires clearing a state background check and training. 

But the law was immediately met with a lawsuit from a gun rights group arguing the minimum age should be 18, and Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti’s office negotiated a settlement rather than defend the law, citing last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling expanding gun rights.

Skrmetti proposed a deal to allow 18- to 20-year-olds to carry handguns publicly. That agreement was approved Monday — the same day a 28-year-old former student shot through the doors of a Christian elementary school in Nashville and engaged in a murderous rampage until she herself was killed by police.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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