House panel backs bill expanding gun-sale background checks

WASHINGTON — A key House committee approved a bill Wednesday to require background checks for all sales and transfers of firearms, a first step by majority Democrats to tighten gun laws after eight years of Republican rule.

The House Judiciary Committee voted in favor of the bill 23-15, sending it to the House floor. If approved by the full House, the bill would be the most significant gun-control legislation approved by either chamber of Congress in at least a decade.

Democrats have pledged additional gun legislation, including restrictions on high-capacity magazines and a measure to allow temporary removal of guns from people deemed an imminent risk to themselves or others.

Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., called the background checks bill long overdue to address a "national crisis of gun violence" that claimed nearly 40,000 lives in 2017.

"Our country is awash in guns, and we have the shameful death toll to show for it," he said.

The vote on the bill came after a contentious, daylong hearing in which Republicans offered a series of amendments, all of which were blocked by Democrats. Republicans said they were ready to offer additional amendments when Nadler shut off debate around 8 p.m., 10 hours after the hearing began.

Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the panel's senior Republican, called Nadler's action "disturbing" and said it did not bode well for the two-year congressional session.

"If this is the way the chairman wants to begin this session of Congress, I really wonder where we go from here" and whether the two parties can work together, Collins said.

But Democrats said Republicans were delaying a vote on the bill because they oppose universal background checks for gun purchases.

"This isn't a debate, it's a show," said Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla. She called universal background checks for all gun sales common sense and said, "Let's move forward."

As if to demonstrate her point, freshman Rep. Greg Steube, R-Fla., displayed a large cup that read, "The Second Amendment is my gun permit." Steube was among several Republicans who tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill.

Fellow freshman Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., said lawmakers "know background checks work, that they save lives, and yet we need to close loopholes" that allow some private purchases and transfers to be made without background checks.

Instead of working with Democrats, "Republicans are adding more loopholes, which is shameful," Dean said.

Republicans pushed to allow exceptions for victims of domestic violence and transfers among family members, but were dismissed by Democrats.

Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., a freshman whose son was killed by gun violence, said she has been working on gun legislation since his death more than six years ago.

"As a survivor of gun violence myself, I refuse to let my colleagues stand here and devalue the importance that this bill has," she said.

Wednesday's vote came a day before the one-year anniversary of the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people.

Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., said that while the bill "can't bring back" any of those killed in Parkland or other shootings, it will help reduce gun violence. "If this legislation prevents one person wishing to do harm to others with a gun from doing that, it will be something we can be proud of," he said.

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