North Coast U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson unveils expanded gun bill requiring universal background checksBy Kevin Fixler, January 8, 2019, 6:31PM
With the stroke of a pen and a stroll onto the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday, North Coast Congressman Mike Thompson introduced the highest-profile legislation of his political career, believing the newly sworn-in Democratic majority finally will be able to deliver on the promise of requiring universal background checks on all private gun sales.
The St. Helena Democrat and House veteran of 20 years was accompanied in Washington, D.C., for the ceremonial submission of House Bill 8 by former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Arizona, who nearly lost her life in a mass shooting attack in Tucson in 2011.
Tuesday marked eight years since a gunman shot and killed six people and wounded 13 others, including Giffords with a bullet in the head from close range, outside a Safeway supermarket during a public meet-and-greet event.
Since recovering, she and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, have dedicated much of their lives to advocacy work to prevent gun-related deaths.
“Stopping gun violence takes courage — the courage to do what is right, the courage of new ideas,” Giffords said during an afternoon press conference announcing the introduction of Thompson’s expanded legislation to help ensure people only get access to firearms after their backgrounds are vetted. “I’ve seen great courage when my life was on the line. Now is the time to come together, be responsible — Democrats, Republicans, everyone. We must never stop fighting.”
Not one year after the tragedy in Tucson, a 20-year-old gunman stormed Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, killing 20 young children and six adults. Thompson, a Vietnam War veteran and recipient of the Purple Heart after being wounded while serving, has been working to gain traction on enhanced gun legislation ever since that 2012 tragedy.
The latest call for background checks on all gun sales, including for the first time at gun shows, over the internet and in classified ads, is Thompson’s fourth try at getting a gun safety bill to reach the House floor for a vote. The new Democratic majority and Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, again in the key decision-making position as House speaker should allow that to happen.
“For the last six years, there was Republican control of the House, and they would not even have a hearing on the issue of gun violence prevention, let alone on the bill,” Thompson said in an interview Tuesday. “This is a new day. Every day that goes by potentially loses more lives and the whole idea is to save lives.”
His previous attempts at a law weren’t as ambitious, he said, because the congressional appetite hadn’t yet fully formed. Thompson, chairman of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force and lifelong hunter, said he needed to remain practical. Through “a natural progression,” however, he now thinks he’s garnered the necessary support across the aisle to pass the bill onto the Senate, namely as the pendulum has swung further forward with each subsequent mass shooting — Aurora, Orlando, Las Vegas and Parkland, to name a few.
“The fact of the matter is the population across the country is fired up on this,” Thompson said. “Young student leaders from one end to the other, they’re engaged and demanding that some action happen. The American people are way out in front of this and I believe the public sentiment wins out.”
The No. 8 assigned to the legislation was a symbolic decision by Pelosi to pay respect to the eight-year mark of the shooting in Tucson on Jan. 8. But the single-digit number for the bill also is used to signal its importance and level of priority for the new speaker, who spoke of the issue’s “growing crescendo” from the packed stage during Tuesday’s press conference announcing the bill.
“In communities across America, courageous survivors, families and young advocates are showing outstanding courage and persistence demanding an end to the horrific scourge of violence in our nation,” Pelosi said in a prepared statement. “Our Democratic majority will press relentlessly for bipartisan progress to end the epidemic of gun violence on our streets, in our schools and in our places of worship. Enough is enough.”
The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019 is actually co-sponsored by 10 members of Congress, including five Republicans. Rep. Peter King, R-New York, is for the fourth time joining Thompson in his pursuit of what’s been labeled “commonsense” and “bold” gun legislation.
A request seeking comment on the legislation from the National Rifle Association, which traditionally opposes the expansion of laws that restrict access to guns, went unreturned Tuesday. If passed by both congressional chambers as written and signed into law by President Trump, Thompson’s bill still would allow firearm transfer exceptions between families, friends and hunting partners. It does not address a Trump administration rollback of an Obama-era gun law that would have required the Social Security Administration to provide information on those with mental disorders during background checks.
Thompson bristles at the idea of maintaining inaction as the continued response to tackling the complex issue because there exists no panacea for ending mass shootings and gun deaths in their entirety in America.
“There’s no single piece of legislation that’s going to solve all the problems and address the overall issue of gun violence,” he said. “The experts say the single most important thing that yields the greatest return is expanding background checks. It’s our first line of defense in keeping people who shouldn’t have guns from having guns.”
No set timetable for when the bill might advance through a House Judiciary Committee hearing and then, if approved, onto the House floor, but Thompson said he’s confident it will pass with near-total support among the 235-member Democratic majority and at least the five Republicans who signed on as co-sponsors. He said he expects that will happen in the first 100 days of the 2019 Congress, and then it would be up to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, whether to put the bill up for a vote in the Senate.
“The Senate is a hurdle,” Thompson acknowledged. “I also think sending this bill over with a good bipartisan vote puts pressure on McConnell to allow the issue to come up in the Senate. It’s important we have success with this, pass the bill out of the House, which sends a loud message that yes we can do these things, and my colleagues in the House and Senate need to stand up for what’s right and take these issues on.”