Senate Democrats will move forward on new gun legislation, promising to bring a bill expanding background checks on all firearm sales to the floor for a vote, despite the uphill climb ahead to garner the 60 votes needed for it to pass.
The promise for a Senate vote comes after the House passed two pieces of legislation expanding background checks on Thursday.
“H.R. 8 will be on the floor of the Senate and we will see where everybody stands,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said of the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021, which would expand background checks for all firearm sales or transfers in the country. “No more thoughts and prayers. A vote is what we need. A vote.”
Getting the 60 votes needed to break the filibuster on the bill remains a difficult feat, despite optimism from one of the bill’s sponsors.
“I don’t think we should accept that there aren’t 60 votes in the Senate for universal background checks,” Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat of Connecticut said on Thursday. “So much has changed. The political power of the anti-gun violence movement is infinitely stronger, the (National Rifle Association) is a shell of itself, and so I’ve had a lot of Republican members come to me and express their willingness to take a new look.”
Schumer acknowledged the possibility the vote will fail. Still, Democrats see this as an opportunity to get Republicans on the record with their votes against background checks, which remain a popular idea among Americans. In Oct 2019, Pew reported that “large majorities in both parties continue to favor making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks.”
“We will see where people stand and maybe we’ll get the votes and if we don’t we’ll come together as a caucus and figure out how we’re going to get this done,” Schumer said.
If bipartisan legislation efforts fail, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, also a Democrat from Connecticut and another of the bill’s sponsors, told CNN last month that some Democrats have already been “thinking about” the possibility of using a procedural tactic bypassing any Republican opposition in the Senate called budget reconciliation.
Due to Senate rules, however, in order to go down this route all items in the bill have to pass a specific test by the Senate parliamentarian proving a substantial impact on the budget – known as the Byrd Rule.
Senators can challenge the parliamentarian’s decisions and vote to waive the Byrd Rule, but they would need a 60-vote majority to do so and that is highly unlikely.
“Arguably, there are fees involved or budgetary or tax implications, possibly,” Blumenthal told CNN of potential gun legislation. Realistically though, he contended this path would be a serious “uphill” fight, the likes of which was demonstrated last month when the parliamentarian dealt a blow to Democrats, ruling against including a $15 federal minimum wage in the Covid relief bill.
Past expanded background check effort failed
The Senate came close to passing expanded background checks in the aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook mass shooting.
In 2013, a bipartisan effort between Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat of West Virginia, and Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania, led to a bill that would have expanded background checks to include private sales at gun shows and all Internet sales, while continuing to exempt most sales between family members and friends. The Manchin-Toomey plan was less robust than what then President Barack Obama had originally proposed, but still received Obama’s support.
Now all eyes are on Manchin and Toomey, once again.
The new legislation would extend the current federal background checks to sales made at gun shows and between states over the Internet.
The Manchin-Toomey bill in 2013 allowed for individuals to sell their firearms to family, friends and other acquaintances without background checks.
The Bipartisan Background Checks Act passed in the House on Thursday has a more specific exemption for transferring guns between family members without a background check.
It requires background checks for person-to-person sales or transfers, just like is currently done for commercial sales. However there’s an exception that allows family members to gift a gun without a background check and another exception that allows you to temporarily transfer a gun to a friend without a background check in certain instances, such as hunting.
Manchin has not said yet whether he’d support the House bill, but he signaled restrictions that go beyond requiring background checks on commercial gun sales, some of which are included in the House bill, could be too far-reaching.
“It’s commercial – not universal, there’s a difference,” Manchin told reporters on Tuesday, referring to the focus of his legislation with Toomey. “Commercial means only closing the loopholes at gun shows and on the internet. Law abiding gun owners aren’t gonna sell their gun to strangers. That’s how we’re taught. We’re not gonna loan our guns to strangers or even to family members. … We’re not doing that. So, don’t take all my rights away.”
When asked about getting Republicans to support this legislation, Murphy said the last eight years have dramatically altered the political landscape, pointing to a 2019 Ipsos poll that showed more than 90% of gun owners and non-gun owners support universal background checks.
“I just think we’re living in a different world than 2013. So much has changed. The politics around us are fundamentally different,” Murphy said about the 2013 legislation.
“I just think that you can’t compare 2013 to 2021. I think there are a lot of Republican senators that are thinking about voting for a proposal allows them to get right on this issue,” he said.
On Thursday, Toomey told CNN he does not know if he’ll vote for the current bill.
“I am in the same, same position that I’ve been in for years,” Toomey said. “I support running background checks to capture all commercial sales.”
“I don’t know what’s going to be on the floor,” Toomey said, adding he didn’t have a sense of whether there was Republican support for the bill.