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House Lawmakers Launch Fresh Efforts To Overhaul Nation's Gun Laws

Handguns sit in a glass display case in Bridgeton, Mo.
Handguns sit in a glass display case in Bridgeton, Mo.

Congressional lawmakers are launching a fresh push for significant gun control legislation, introducing two bills aimed at sweeping overhauls of the nation's gun laws.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers, led by California Rep. Mike Thompson, who leads the congressional task force on gun violence prevention, reintroduced legislation Tuesday to require background checks for all gun purchasers.

The legislation was first introduced in the House in January 2019, after a wave of youth-led activism that followed the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., rallied Democrats around gun control. It passed in the House in February 2019, making it the first significant piece of gun legislation to be approved by the House in 25 years. But, it stalled in the Senate.

"Time and time again, we have seen that the American people want universal background checks, in fact public polling shows that the majority of people, Democrats, Republicans and Independents, support this," Thompson said in a statement. "We began our work to combat the scourge of gun violence eight years ago after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School and will not stop until we deliver for the American people."

The bill is being co-sponsored by Rep. Jerry Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee; Democratic Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, Robin Kelly of Illinois and Lucy McBath of Georgia, along with Republican Reps. Fred Upton of Michigan, Christopher Smith of New Jersey and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania.

Separately, Majority Whip James Clyburn, a close Biden ally, announced Monday that he was re-introducing legislation that would close what has become known as the "Charleston loophole." That loophole allowed Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who killed nine people in 2015 at a historically black church in Charleston, S.C., to buy a handgun even though he should have been barred from purchasing the weapon. In a statement, Clyburn said that the House is expected to vote on that legislation next week.

"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 in a statement. "A large majority of Americans, including gun owners, support universal background checks. This legislation is needed to keep weapons out of the hands of those who should not have them and save lives."

The new legislative push comes as members of the Biden administration, including Susan Rice, the head of the Domestic Policy Council, and Cedric Richmond, the director of the Office of Public Engagement, have met with representatives of groups pushing for stricter gun laws and community groups focused on violence prevention.

What's more, Biden has a history of dealing with gun legislation. After the shooting that left 20 children dead in Newtown, Conn., President Obama dispatched Biden to lead the push for sweeping new gun laws. However, a bill to require expanded background checks died on the Senate floor.

As a senator in 1994, Biden sponsored the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which included a 10-year ban on assault-style weapons. But it also included some provisions he has come to regret, including harsh penalties for drug-related crimes.

In a statement marking the third anniversary of the Parkland shooting, Biden called on Congress to enact "commonsense gun law reforms, including requiring background checks on all gun sales, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and eliminating immunity for gun manufacturers who knowingly put weapons of war on our streets."

"We owe it to all those we've lost and to all those left behind to grieve to make a change," Biden added.

Asked about Biden's timetable for passing such measures during a White House press briefing, press secretary Jen Psaki said that throughout his career, Biden has advocated for "smart gun safety measures."

"He is not afraid of standing up to the NRA — he's done it multiple times and won — on background checks and a range of issues. And it is a priority to him on a personal level," Psaki said.

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