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Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Thursday blocked a request to proceed to legislation passed by the House in March to expand background checks for gun sales, a priority that has languished in Congress for years.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a leading advocate for gun control legislation, asked for unanimous consent to proceed to the House bill, citing the recent school shooting in Michigan that left four students dead.
"I want to tell you why I'm making this request. I understand the low likelihood of success, but I hope many of my colleagues took a minute to watch the cellphone video from the school shooting in Michigan," he said on the Senate floor, calling the footage "absolutely terrifying to watch."
Murphy recounted the chilling surveillance footage of 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley emerging from a bathroom with a 9mm Sig Sauer SP 2022 pistol with a 15-round magazine and firing at classmates and teachers.
"All of those kids who fled that violence, all of those kids who now don't think of school as a safe place, they are going through trauma and will go through trauma that will take a lifetime to address," Murphy said.
Murphy noted that states that did not have universal background check requirements saw an 8 percent increase in violent crime compared to the national average in 2020.
He acknowledged that expanding background checks wouldn't have necessarily stopped the shooting in Michigan but argued it would make a difference.
"I don't claim that this proposal nor any other proposal to change the nation's gun laws will have an effect on every single shooting," he said, but he argued that data shows expanded background checks "saves lives, decreases gun violence, decreases violent crime."
Murphy called on the Senate to immediately proceed to the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021, which would require new background check requirements for gun transfers between private parties.
It would prohibit a firearm transfer between individuals unless a licensed gun dealer or manufacture conducts a background check.
Grassley, however, blocked the request, calling it "hostile towards lawful gun owners and lawful firearm transactions."
"This will not solve the problems that it seeks to solve. So-called universal background checks will not prevent crime and will turn otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals," he argued.
Grassley said his own bill, sponsored with Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), to increase requirements for government agencies to accurately submit records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System is a better proposal.
He then asked unanimous consent for his own bill to pass, which Murphy objected to.
Murphy said that while the Republican bill "has important pieces to it," it would substantially reduce the number of background checks done in this country.
"In large part it is a massive contraction of the universal background check system rather than what Americans support, which is an expansion of the background check system," he said.
Murphy noted that Grassley's bill would restore gun rights to individuals who are "subject to psychiatric confinement."