House Judiciary Committee to Tackle Gun Legislation Debate Next Week

September 3, 2019 by Dan McCue
This year is likely to be another big year for firearms laws in the states. (David Maialetti/Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)

WASHINGTON – The House Judiciary Committee will reconvene next week taking on one of the nation’s most contentious issues — finding a way forward in the wake of a series of mass shootings.

The markup on a trio of bills addressing some aspect of gun purchases and/or hate crimes had initially been set for Wednesday, Sept. 4, but was postponed until Sept. 9 due to the threat Hurricane Dorian currently poses to Florida and the Southeast U.S. coastline.

Five members of the committee represent congressional districts in Florida.

“For far too long, politicians in Washington have only offered thoughts and prayers in the wake of gun violence tragedies,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said. “Thoughts and prayers have never been enough. To keep our communities safe, we must act.”

Though he acknowledged the issue of gun violence won’t be fixed overnight, the New York Democrat said “there are steps Congress can and must take to address it.”

Supporters of the legislation had been hoping for swift action after shootings in Gilroy, California; Dayton, Ohio; and El Paso, Texas earlier this summer. However, momentum bogged down as the focus before the August recess was on crafting a budget deal with the White House and Senate. 

A rampage in the West Texas community of Odessa over Labor Day weekend has added new urgency to pass the legislation in the House, though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will not call a vote in that chamber until he’s presented with a bill President Donald Trump is certain to sign.

The bills the Judiciary Committee will review next week include:

  • H.R.1186, the Keep Americans Safe Act, introduced by Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., which would ban high capacity ammunition magazines;
  • H.R.1236, the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act of 2019, introduced by Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Calif., which provides incentives through grants for states to adopt laws preventing those deemed a risk to themselves or others from accessing firearms.  
  • In addition, H.R. 3076, the Federal Extreme Risk Protection Order Act of 2019, introduced by Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., establishes a procedure for obtaining Extreme Risk Protection Orders in federal court, and
  • H.R.2708, the Disarm Hate Act, introduced by Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I.,  which includes those convicted of misdemeanor hate crimes in the list of categories of individuals who are prohibited from possessing firearms, and who would be prohibited from doing so through background checks.

Representative Doug Collins, R-Ga., the ranking Republican on the panel, is said to be preparing his own proposal that would create a federal response center for mass shootings, authorize additional funds for federal gun prosecutions, and increase penalties for stealing weapons from gun stores.

The markup will be followed by a hearing on assault weapons on September 25.

The ban on the manufacture of certain semi-automatic weapons for civilian use and large-capacity magazines expired in 2004, but several members of the House, led by Representative Cicilline, want to enact a new assault weapons ban. 

A bill sponsored by Cicilline doing just that has amassed 205 bipartisan co-sponsors.

Earlier this year, the House Judiciary Committee passed H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, by a vote of 23-15, and H.R. 1112, the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2019, by a vote of 21-14. 

The full House passed both bills on February 28, 2019.

Under current law, background checks are conducted by licensed gun dealers only. Unlicensed sellers, many of them at gun shows, do not have to conduct a background check, even if the seller sells a large number of guns.  

H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, would make it illegal for any person who is not a licensed firearm importer, manufacturer, or dealer to transfer a firearm to any other person who is not licensed, without a background check. 

The bill also provides a number of exemptions to this requirement, including gifts to family members and transfers for hunting, target shooting, and self-defense. 

H.R. 1112, the Enhanced Background Checks Act, addresses a loophole that contributed to the tragic hate-crime murder of nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015. 

The shooter was not legally allowed to possess a firearm as a result of drug charges, but he still was able to purchase his gun from a licensed dealer, who decided to lawfully sell the weapon after three business days had elapsed, despite not having received a definitive response from the background check system.

“House Democrats ushered in a new era this Congress where we swiftly passed landmark, bipartisan legislation to strengthen the gun background check system and close loopholes,” Chairman Nadler said. “It’s been more than 160 days since those bills passed the House and have awaited passage in the Senate. It’s shameful that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to [have] the Senate take up this legislation.”

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