HR8 and HR1112 would require universal background checks and give the FBI Instant Check system more time to respond.  Both bills passed the House in February but are stalled on the Senate Legislative Calendar. Also in February, Trump threatened to veto this same gun legislation.   On September 3, Senate Majority Leader McConnell stated that a vote on these bills would proceed when they have the support of President Trump. 

Vacillating after recent mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, Trump announced willingness to pass “meaningful background checks”.  On August 9 Trump tweeted:

“Serious discussions are taking place between House and Senate leadership on meaningful Background Checks.”  

But his vague language offers an ambiguous definition of “meaningful background checks”.  Trump later reverses his statement in a press conference, claiming “[w]e have very, very strong background checks right now.”

The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993

To say that our current background checks system is “very, very strong” is debatable if not outright untrue.  The system follows the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993[1]. The Brady Act provided the first effort to implement pre-sale background checks of firearms. It established the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The Act does not require private sellers to perform a background check prior to private sale or transfer. This is true even if the seller transfers many firearms.  

In most cases, the NICS responds within a few minutes. In about 10% of NICS checks, more time is required. Under the Brady Act, if the NICS does not respond in three days, a “default” sale may continue. 

According to House Judiciary Committee Report 112-16 , default sales are eight times more likely to transfer a firearm to an otherwise prohibited buyer. In 2017 alone, default transfers accounted for 4,864 sales to persons legally prohibited from owning firearms. The FBI cites this loophole as allowing the 2015 Charleston shooter to purchase firearms.

So, how would HR8 an HR1112 strengthen America’s firearm sale background checks? Both bills address weakness in the Brady Act. 

HR8 Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019

The purpose of HR8 is to require background checks for every gun or firearm sale and transfer. If signed into law, HR8 would “make it illegal for any person not a licensed firearm importer, manufacturer, or dealer to transfer a firearm” to an unlicensed individual without a background check. “Unlicensed individuals” are defined as private parties, or those persons who are not licensed firearm dealers.

Changes would primarily affect gun transfers between private parties.  Such a transfer would be prohibited unless a licensed firearm dealer, manufacturer or importer first took possession of the gun and performed background checks.

Exceptions to HR8 firearm transfer regulations as submitted to the Senate would include:

1) Law enforcement or security personnel, within the scope of employment;

2) A loan or gift between spouses, domestic partners, and specific family;

3) Transfer to an executor or representative of an estate upon death;

4) A temporary transfer necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm;

5) A temporary transfer at a shooting range or for hunting while in the presence of the transferor.

HR8 utilizes the current background checks system under The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993.  As such, HR8 without the corresponding passage of HR1112 would provide only partial relief from the Brady Act loopholes.

HR1112 Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2019

HR1112 would strengthen background checks that federal firearms licensees and dealers must follow before selling or transferring a firearm. 

Specifically, HR1112 would amend the three-day default sales loophole. Under HR1112, a minimum of 10 days after initiating background checks to the NICS the licensed dealer may petition NICS for completion of sale. In this petition, the dealer must certify that there is “no reason to believe that such other person is prohibited by Federal, State or local law from purchasing or possessing a firearm”.  A default sale may proceed if there is no response from NICS a minimum of 10 days after submission of the certifying petition.

Overwhelming Bipartisan Public Support for Enhanced Background Checks

Although more than 90% of Americans support enhanced background checks, the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) does not. 

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) reports that the NRA spent about $30,000,000 towards electing Trump and defeating Clinton during the 2016 election. More recently, the NRA has warned Trump that passing such gun legislation would endanger his reelection prospects. 

Trump has repeatedly claimed that mass shootings are a “mental health” issue rather than a gun control issue. Other measures touted by the Administration include Red Flag laws.  Red Flag laws would allow officials to confiscate firearms from people who have been determined by a judge to be an imminent danger to society.  Yet, opponents of Red Flag laws criticize that they violate a citizen’s due process rights. 

In an even more drastic statement, the President suggested that convicted mass murderers receive the death penalty.  Public support for the death penalty has steadily waned through the years.  No federal executions have been performed in 16 years, when three prisoners were executed under President Bush. Imposing the death penalty as a deterrent to mass shootings contradicts Trump’s repeated claim that mass shootings are a “mental health” issue rather than a gun control issue.  Using the logic that mass shooters are “mentally ill”, the legality and ethics of executing such a prisoner is problematic.

A Call For Common Sense Reform

HR8 and HR1112 are commonsense and necessary enhancements to current background checks.  Upon the Senate’s return to session, a vote on these bills should be implemented by the Senate as a first order of business.  Still, both bills face an uphill battle in the Republican controlled Senate. McConnell now places the fate of a Senate Vote squarely on Trump, a president who is uncommitted to “meaningful gun reform” and beholden to the NRA. 

Contact the U.S. Senate at 1-202-224-3121 and tell them you want them to vote on HR8 and HR1112.

[1] Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, Pub. L. No. 103-159, 107 Stat. 1536 (1993)