House passes bills to expand background checks for gun sales and close 'Charleston loophole'

WASHINGTON - The House passed two bills Thursday that would tighten gun sales regulations, sending the measures to a divided Senate.

H.R. 8 would expand background checks on individuals seeking to purchase or transfer firearms, and the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021 would close the "Charleston loophole," a gap in federal law that lets gun sales proceed without a completed background check if three businesses days have passed.

"This bill is a critical step toward preventing gun violence and saving lives," Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., who sponsored H.R. 8, said before its passage.

That bill, titled the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021, passed 227-203. It received eight Republican votes, and one Democrat voted against it. In 2019, the bill was passed with eight votes from Republicans, five of whom cosponsored the package.

The other bill passed Thursday, H.R. 1446, is linked to a shooting in 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina, where a white supremacist used the loophole to obtain firearms he used to kill nine Black people during a Bible study at Mother Emanuel AME Church. The bill would extend the initial background check review period from three to 10 days.

The bill, which was passed 219-210, with two Democrats opposed and two Republicans in support, was written by House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., who called it "an important step Congress must take to address the epidemic of gun violence in this country."

"If people can't be safe in Bible study, then they can't be safe anywhere," Clyburn said at a news conference Thursday morning.

"Gun violence is a public health crisis," the White House said in a statement endorsing Clyburn's legislation.

"The federal gun background check system is a proven tool to reduce gun violence and save lives. This system ... has kept millions of guns out of potentially dangerous hands," the statement said.

What HR 8 does and doesn't do

H.R. 8, a background checks package meant to enhance reviews of those seeking firearms, would not create a registry or other federal mechanisms for review.

Instead, the legislation would expand the cases in which a background check is required for the sale or transfer of a firearm, including for private individuals and groups, closing the "Gun Show Loophole." The requirements would apply to online sales.

The bill would make it illegal for anyone who is not a licensed firearm importer, manufacturer or dealer to trade or sell firearms to another person; current federal law requires background checks only for licensed gun dealers.

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Nonlicensed individuals who would like to sell or trade weapons could do so through a licensed firearms dealer who would run the necessary background checks.

As much legislation does in the new Congress, the bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where Republican lawmakers largely remain obstinate to any gun control measures. The bill passed with a few Republican votes, signaling there may be support among the GOP for such measures.

People could still temporarily trade and share firearms at shooting ranges, on hunting trips and when it is "necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm" under the new regulations.

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'Charleston loophole' bill first passed House in 2019

Clyburn's legislation would extend the initial background check review period to 10 days, after which, if a background check was not completed, a purchaser would have to ask the FBI to complete its investigation before receiving authorization.

Originally approved by the House in 2019, the bill stalled in the Senate, which was under Republican control. This time, it passed with just two Republican votes.

A church youth group from Dothan, Ala., prays in front of the Emanuel AME Church in July 2015, a month after a mass shooting in Charleston, S.C. Visitors gathered at a makeshift shrine in front of the church in a show of faith and solidarity with "Mother Emanuel," as the church is known. Nine people were killed by white supremacist Dylann Roof, who was sentenced to death for the murders.

Conservatives and gun rights groups argued the three-day time constraint on background checks is necessary to incentivize federal law enforcement to investigate background checks in a timely manner. The bill's proponents said the policy allows for potentially grievous and deadly oversight.

“Enacting common-sense gun control measures is a priority for President Biden and this Democratic Congress, and this legislation is a good first step,” Clyburn said upon reintroducing the bill. “This legislation is needed to keep weapons out of the hands of those who should not have them and save lives.”

Schumer vows to bring gun control bill to Senate vote

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he would put the background check legislation on the Senate floor despite opposition from Republicans.

When he was majority leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., blocked the enhanced background check legislation in the last session of Congress, but Schumer vowed, "H.R. 8 will be on the floor of the Senate, and we will see where everybody stands. No more hopes and prayers."

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., predicted Republicans might support the bill.

"You can’t compare 2013 to 2021," he said, referring to a previous push for gun control. "There are a lot of Republican senators that are thinking about voting for a proposal that allows them to get right on this issue."

It is unclear whether there will be enough Republican votes to bypass a procedural roadblock known as a filibuster, which would require at least 10 Republicans to vote with all 50 Democrats in the Senate to advance the legislation.

Conservative Democrats who do not support more restrictions on guns could join Republican opposition.

Contributing: Nicholas Wu

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: House passes 2 bills expanding background checks for gun sales