Battle lines drawn for proposed federal background check expansion

Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, retired NASA astronaut Capt. Mark Kelly were on hand Wednesday to announce their support for the latest attempt at a federal mandate to expand background checks for gun transfers. (Photo: ARS)

Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, retired NASA astronaut Capt. Mark Kelly were on hand Wednesday to announce their support for the latest attempt at a federal mandate to expand background checks for gun transfers. (Photo: ARS)

Battle lines are being drawn in the fight against a rebooted nationwide push – announced Wednesday – to mandate background checks for virtually all gun transfers, to include private sales.

Written by representatives Pete King, R-New York, and Mike Thompson, D-California, bipartisan HR 1217 aims to expand the background check system to encompass the commercial sale of all firearms, including those sold at gun shows, through the Internet and in classified ads.

As such, it is a doppelganger for the 2013 Manchin-Toomey Public Safety and Second Amendment Rights Protection Act, a bipartisan bill that tanked in a 54 to 46 vote in a Senate then narrowly controlled by the Democratic Party. It needed 60 votes to move forward.

This week’s measure is also a repeat of a bill, likewise introduced by King and Thompson, which never made it out of committee last year.

The rehashed legislation earned fast praise in Washington by former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, retired NASA astronaut Capt. Mark Kelly. On hand with a number of the lawmakers sponsoring the measure at its unveiling, the pair spoke on behalf of their Americans for Responsible Solutions PAC, which stumped for a number of candidates in last year’s election cycle to mixed results.

“The problem is that we have weak laws that let dangerous people get their hands on guns,” said Kelly in a statement. “That’s why Congress must act on this bipartisan bill to close the loopholes that let people buy a gun without a background check.”

Although not at the press conference, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety organization praised the reinvigorated measure.

“Requiring background checks on all gun sales continues to be the single most effective thing we can do to keep guns out of dangerous hands and reduce the toll of 88 Americans who are killed by gun violence every day,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety in a statement emailed to Guns.com.

The Everytown group has been on the front lines in the effort to get universal check measures passed in Washington, Vermont and Nevada in recent months, alternating between ballot referendums and legislative proposals.

To date the most effective of these, Washington’s I-594, came at the price of nearly $2 million from Everytown’s coffers.

Opposing the new push in Congress are gun rights organizations to include the National Rifle Association.

“If Bloomberg and his supporters were serious about solving underlying problems, they would work to reform our broken mental health system, not attack the rights of America’s 100 million gun owners,” said Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, in a statement emailed to Guns.com.

Other Second Amendment advocates predicted slow going in a now Republican-run Senate, even if it makes its way through the House.

“In the last election cycle Gabby Giffords has proven that her support for ‘background checks’ is just a stalking horse for additional gun control that includes banning semi-auto rifles and standard capacity magazines,” Alan Gottlieb, Chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, told Guns.com. “She supported Washington State Initiative 594 which expanded gun registration and candidates who want to ban guns. Any legislation that she gets behind is dead on arrival in Congress.”

House Bill 1217 has been referred to the Committees on the Judiciary and Veterans’ Affairs pending Republican House Speaker John Boehner’s consideration.