House Dems Coming For Your Guns Again, If You Have Any Left After Obama
The House is getting ready to pass two bills that would require background checks for virtually all firearms sales, so if you see the internet gunhumping crowd seeming especially excitable, the predictable round of scary warnings about the imminent death of freedom from the National Rifle Association is probably to blame. Or maybe everyone on the Right won't even notice, preferring instead to keep insisting that Pepé Le Pew mustn't be cancelled by the director of Space Jam 2, although the scene was reportedly nixed quite some time ago and was never actually animated. As of yet, the NRA has not yet claimed that the old Pepé Le Pew cartoons from the '50s would have been improved had the female cat Le Pew harassed been packing heat so she could shout "I am in fear for my life!" and shoot Pepé dead.
So yes, here we go again with another bill to at least slightly tighten up the background process for gun purchases, requiring that virtually all firearms sales between private sellers be subject to a background check. Sales by federally licensed firearm dealers are already subject to such checks, so this would close a loophole sometimes used to avoid those checks.
Since the mass school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, and in Parkland, Florida, some states have tightened their own background check requirements. But we haven't seen much in the way of data on unregulated firearms sales since a 2017 study by researchers at Harvard and Northeastern determined that about a fifth of guns are acquired without any background check. When that's narrowed just to people who purchased a gun, however, only 13 percent of respondents said they hadn't faced a background check, which perhaps suggests a fair number of gifts, bartering, or maybe theft, although we'd be fascinated to know how many gun thieves answer surveys.
The bill, like a similar effort passed by the House in 2019 and then promptly consigned to the Never In A Million Years box in Mitch McConnell's office, would include some exemptions, like allowing gifts from family members. So don't worry, Grandpa can still celebrate little Walter's 21st birthday by passing on his cherished Webley-Vickers 50.80 revolver from the War. People will also be allowed to loan a gun to someone else while hunting quail (but not Dick Cheney's lawyer) or for self-defense, so should you run out of ammo during a firefight with Antifa Super Soldiers, your buddy can slide a fresh AR-15 to you just like in the action movies in which that sort of thing is a realistic scenario.
A companion bill would increase the amount of time allowed for the FBI to complete background checks from three days to 10 days, closing a loophole that allowed the gunman in the 2015 Charleston church massacre to purchase a gun even though he had admitted to drug possession. Had that conviction been found, the shooter couldn't have gotten the murder weapon, but since the FBI didn't complete its check within three days, the dealer was allowed to sell him the gun.
The Charleston murderer has lots of company; Rep James Clyburn (D-South Carolina) notes that since 1998, at least 75,000 gun sales have gone through that should have been prevented by a full background check — but the FBI ran out of time. The NRA claims that 10 days is some kind of tyranny, and that having just three days to process background checks keeps the FBI on its toes. Like, even if there's a sudden panic and droves of people demand to buy more guns.
Nonetheless, the NRA is full of dishonest claims about the evil effects of the bills, claiming that they'd "make criminals out of law-abiding gun owners for simply loaning a firearm to a friend," which if you have read the paragraph two up from this one you know is a damned lie, and insisting that background checks can't "stop criminals from obtaining guns because criminals do not comply with the law." You know, like, apart from how the Charlestown killer could actually have been kept from getting a gun had his background check been completed, or for that matter the teensy detail that since 1994, when federal background checks began, some three million firearms purchases were blocked when would-be buyers were found to be ineligible. And more of the usual NRA bullshit, handily debunked in this Twitter thread, which you should go read.
While both bills should easily pass in the House, and may even pick up seven or eight Republican votes, they're not likely to go anywhere in the Senate, where there will definitely not be 10 Republican votes to pass it. But as The New Republicpoints out, even though West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin likes the bill, and co-sponsored one very like it following Newtown, the bill he's in favor of won't pass because Joe Manchin doesn't want to end the legislative filibuster. He thinks it promotes "bipartisanship" by allowing the minority party a chance to have its voice heard; really, though, it allows the minority party a veto over pretty much anything.
Manchin has been adamant that he's not going to reconsider his opposition to eliminating the filibuster. He recently yelled at reporters who brought it up again, "Never. Jesus Christ! [...] What don't you understand about 'never'?" His OK-ness with the filibuster led to Republican defeats of stronger background checks in 2013 and 2015.
It should be said that these failures give lie to the idea, promoted by Manchin and others, that the filibuster facilitates bipartisanship. On both occasions, checks actually won the support of a bipartisan coalition of senators, and Manchin's bill might have passed in 2013 with a bipartisan 54-vote majority were it not for the filibuster and its 60-vote threshold. Instead of Congress passing a policy supported by the vast majority of the American people and offered up by cooperative and cordial members of both parties, Congress passed nothing.
So even with bipartisanship, bupkis. The partisan minority managed to block the bill, and will again, so once again, a fairly minimal regulation on gun sales will fail. That means there's not the least chance of passing the more ambitious measures Joe Biden has supported, like an assault-style weapons ban or reversing the law that protects the gun industry from liability suits.
Over the weekend, Manchin dropped hints that he would be open to reforming the filibuster without killing it off outright. Not simply by requiring a return to the "talking filibuster," which Republicans could probably keep going forever. As this Washington Post obit for CBS newsman Roger Mudd reminds us, segregationist Southern Democrats managed to filibuster the 1964 Civil Rights Act for two months.
But Manchin also said in a Politico interview published yesterday that he "thinks either the majority needs to come up with 60 votes to overcome a filibuster or the minority to come up with 41 votes to sustain it." In other words, to keep a filibuster going, Republicans would need to keep 41 butts in seats in the Senate chamber. As Slate's Jordan Weissmann points out, that
would make filibustering more logistically difficult. But once you've made the rule change, it also opens up the potential for old-timey hardball tactics like running the Senate 24/7 until the opposing side just drops.
Having to go to all that trouble just might be more work than Republicans — who couldn't be arsed to stay in the chamber long enough to drag out debate on the American Rescue Plan as they'd planned — are willing to do.
[Reuters / Igor Volsky on Twitter / New Republic / Giffords Law Center / Slate / Annals of Internal Medicine]
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