GOP and Democrats Disagree on Specifics of Background Checks for Gun Buyers

August 14, 2019 Updated: September 7, 2019

After the recent high-profile mass shootings, lawmakers are again faced with the questions of how to stop gun violence and if Congress can get through the historic gridlock on gun control.

While there is bipartisan agreement that something needs to be done to stop gun violence, the two parties cannot unify on what the specifics are. Democrats want immediate gun control legislation while Republicans are focused more on mental health to root out the epidemic.

Hoping to break through the gridlock, Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) and Joe Manchin (D-W. Va) sponsored a bipartisan bill. Their bill aims to expand background checks on all commercial sales, including gun shows and internet sales.

Addressing the Senate measure for background checks, Toomey wrote on Twitter: “While no law will end mass shootings entirely, it’s time for Congress to act to help keep our communities safer.”

Sen. Manchin said he thinks the bill will help curb gun violence while protecting Americans’ second amendment rights.

Toomey and Manchin introduced a similar bill in 2013, but it did not get enough Senate votes last year to pass. Their most recent bill, S.42, Background Expansion Act, was introduced in the Senate in January 2019. It “prohibits a firearm transfer between private parties unless a licensed gun dealer, manufacturer, or importer first takes possession of the firearm to conduct a background check.”

President Donald Trump has shown support for background checks.

On Aug. 5, he wrote on Twitter: “We cannot let those killed in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, die in vain. Likewise for those so seriously wounded … Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks …”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-K.y.) told WHAS on Aug. 8 that background checks and red flag measures will be a top priority when the Senate reconvenes in September.

“Those are two items that for sure will be front and center as we see what we can come together on and pass,” he told the Louisville-based radio station.

When the Toomey-Manchin Background Expansion Act was introduced in the Senate, it did not get much support from Republican Senators. Nor has the Republican-controlled Senate taken up the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, H.R.8, which passed in the Democratic-controlled House in February.

Most Republicans have not proclaimed support for stricter background checks. Instead, they want Congress to instead address mental health issues that have driven the behaviors of many of the shooters.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) did not endorse new background checks, but said what’s needed instead is a change in speech and behavior as a nation.

“Especially in a nation with a constitutional right to bear arms, new laws from Washington, D.C., alone won’t stop this violence … It will take a change in behavior. Every day our internet democracy displays millions of hateful thoughts. To change behavior, each of us has a responsibility to replace these hateful thoughts with statements that respect the dignity of every individual, regardless of their background.”

Gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA), said that both H.R.8 and S.42 overly restrict second amendment rights and make it harder for citizens to protect themselves and their families.

Although Trump has shown support for expanding background checks, he has also emphasized that the focus of gun control should be on mental health.

“We must make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms; and that if they do, those firearms can be taken through rapid due process,” the president said in a White House press statement.

Democrats said Toomey-Manchin’s S.42 is not enough and that Senate Republicans should pass H.R.8 to show their full support for ending gun violence, arguing that the latter would expand background checks to gun shows and internet sales and also ban private sales from non-licensed dealers, except for some family transactions and loans.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) released a statement Aug. 7, criticizing Republican efforts to pursue so-called “red-flag” laws or Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) without passing universal background checks legislation.

“We Democrats are not going to settle for half-measures so Republicans can feel better and try to push the issue of gun violence off to the side. Democrats in the Senate will seek to require that a vote accompanies any Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) bill that comes to the floor on the House-passed universal background checks legislation,” Schumer said in the statement.

Still, Toomey and Manchin believe if Trump supports the Senate Background check bill, other Republicans will follow suit to get it passed.