House Approves Measures to Expand Firearm Background Checks

March 11, 2021 Updated: March 12, 2021

The House of Representatives approved two measures on Thursday that expand background checks on individuals who are seeking to purchase or transfer firearms and would give authorities 10 business days for federal background checks to be completed before a gun sale can be licensed.

“This bill is a critical step toward preventing gun violence and saving lives,” said Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), who sponsored the measure known as H.R. 8.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) introduced a companion bill in the upper chamber.

The bill, titled the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021, passed 227–203, receiving eight Republican votes and one Democrat vote against. Five Republicans co-sponsored the bill along with several Democrats.

According to a summary of the legislation, it will “utilize the current background checks process in the United States to ensure individuals prohibited from gun possession are not able to obtain firearms.” Currently, any firearm purchased at a retail store or online has to go through a background check and has to involve a licensed firearms dealer with a federal firearms license, known as an FFL. Specifically, H.R. 8 would also require background checks for private sales.

The second bill, passed 219-210 with only two Republicans supporting it, would give federal officials 10 business days for federal background checks to be carried out before a gun sale can be licensed. Currently, such sales can proceed if the government cannot complete complicated background checks of prospective buyers within three days.

The House recently passed another control measure, H.R. 1446, which allows for the FBI to indefinitely delay background checks. Currently, there is a three-day default transfer window. That measure was introduced by Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.).

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have said they would reintroduce other gun control measures. President Joe Biden’s administration also expressed support for such measures in recent days.

“No more hopes and prayers, thoughts and prayers—a vote is what we need,” said Schumer in a news conference, when he vowed to bring H.R. 8 out of former Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s “legislative graveyard” after it stalled in the Senate in 2019.

Republicans have said these measures won’t make Americans safer, with one saying that H.R. 8 would create a possible “national registry of firearms.”

“The idea that this is going to make us safer is laughable,” said Rep. Mary Miller (R-Ill.) on the House floor on March 11. “Criminals looking to get their hands on firearms to use in crimes are not going to submit to background checks. Only law-abiding citizens will follow the law. This is a back door means of setting up a national registry of firearms—something I completely oppose.”

Miller added that the United States has “enough gun laws,” but she said that “we need is to make sure the laws we have are enforced.”

“We need better enforcement—not more laws,” Miller added. “Instead of passing terrible legislation like H.R. 8, we need to do a better job of providing law enforcement agencies with the resources they need to enforce existing gun laws.”

The bills and proposals come as record numbers of firearms are continuing to be sold in the United States. According to recent figures from the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), gun sales in January surged by almost 10 percent month-over-month and about 60 percent as compared with January 2019.

After H.R. 8 was passed by the House in 2019 as well, it was never taken up by the Republican-controlled Senate. Schumer said on March 11 that the legislation will be discussed in the Senate.

The National Rifle Association, in a 2019 analysis, said that if passed, the bill would require that “loans, gifts, and sales of firearms be processed by a gun store. The same fees, paperwork, and permanent record-keeping apply as to buying a new gun from the store.

“If you loan a gun to a friend without going to the gun store, the penalty is the same as for knowingly selling a gun to a convicted violent felon. Likewise, when the friend returns the gun, another trip to the gun store is necessary, upon pain of felony.”

Reuters contributed to this report.