House Democrats unveil universal background check bill on anniversary of Gabby Giffords shooting

Democrats released the bill eight years to the day that she was shot.

January 8, 2019, 5:34 PM

Eight years to the day that former Rep. Gabby Giffords was shot at a constituent meeting in Tuscon, Arizona, House Democrats unveiled a universal background check bill they hope to pass within the first 100 days of the new Congress.

The measure, introduced Tuesday with Giffords and gun control advocates at the Capitol, would require background checks on the sale of any firearm and expand existing background checks to cover anyone attempting to buy firearms online, commercially or at gun shows, while providing exceptions for law enforcement and the transfer of guns between friends and family members.

PHOTO: Former U.S. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords speaks on October 17, 2016 in New York City.|House Speaker Nancy Pelosi  speaks on Capitol Hill on Jan. 3, 2019 in Washington, D.C.
Former U.S. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords speaks on October 17, 2016 in New York City.|House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks on Capitol Hill on Jan. 3, 2019 in Washington, D.C.
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"Stopping gun violence takes courage, the courage to do what’s right, the courage for new ideas," Giffords said at a news conference, just steps from the House floor and the Democratic cloak room named in her honor.

The bill is the first move by the newly empowered House Democrats in their bid to change federal gun control laws after years of congressional gridlock between Republicans and Democrats.

"This is a very important step forward to make sure our communities are a bit safer," Rep. Mike Thompson, D-California, chair of the Democrats' Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, who wrote the legislation, told ABC News.

Thompson has introduced similar proposals in previous sessions, but the bills were buried by GOP leaders and the Republican majority, who instead considered and advanced legislation to expand the rights of gun owners to carry concealed firearms across state lines, a top priority of the National Rifle Association.

The universal background check legislation is supported by Democrats and a handful of Republicans, including Rep. Peter King, R-New York, the lead GOP sponsor, Rep. Brian Mast, R-Florida and Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey. They are among those who will support this latest iteration, according to aides.

Rep. Richard Hudson, R-North Carolina, the author of the concealed-carry legislation passed through the House last year, criticized the background check proposal, arguing that it "threatens the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens.”

Critics of the proposal have also pointed out that Jared Loughner, the Tuscon shooter who wounded Giffords in 2011, passed a background check and legally purchased his gun in Arizona.

"Instead of looking for effective solutions that will deal with the root cause of violent crime and save lives, anti-gun politicians would rather score political points and push ineffective legislation that doesn’t stop criminals from committing crimes," Jennifer Baker, an NRA spokesperson, said in a statement.

While Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., plans to introduce a companion bill in the Senate, Democrats don't expect Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to bring the measure to the floor, or anticipate seeing any endorsement from President Donald Trump on Twitter.

But with the help of outside advocacy groups, they hope to put pressure on Republicans to act, after a midterm election cycle where dozens of freshman House Democrats, including Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Massachusetts, and Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Georgia, ran for office pledging to take action to address gun violence. McBath is a gun control activist whose 17-year-old son was shot and killed at a gas station seven years ago.

McBath said Tuesday that she was bringing forward the bill to "prevent more families from facing the horror and heartbreak of gun violence."

Congresswoman-elect Ayanna Pressley speaks at a moderated discussion in Boston, Dec. 13, 2018.
CJ Gunther/EPA via Shutterstock

Pressley, a former Boston city councilwoman, brought up the subject in her first meetings with House Democratic leaders -- offering her support for Speaker Nancy Pelosi's leadership bid in exchange for her "express commitment" to bring a background check bill to the floor early in the new Congress.

"If this weren't bold and if this was some easy, low-hanging fruit than this would've happened before," Pressley said of the universal background check legislation in an interview with ABC News. "To me, it's progress. It's a step in the right direction. We don't stop pushing for and advocating for those comprehensive fixes that I think will get at this growing scourge."

Pressley and other Democrats hope to also put forth measures that have advanced in individual states to limit domestic abusers the ability to purchase firearms, advance "red flag" proposals allowing courts to disarm potentially dangerous gun owners and fund Center for Disease Control and Prevention research on gun violence.

"If the midterms showed us anything, it's that gun safety is no longer the third rail of American politics," John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, told ABC News.

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