Washington • Utah Rep. Ben McAdams joined fellow Democrats to pass legislation Wednesday expanding federal background checks for gun purchases while Utah’s three House Republicans voted against the measure.
The bill, which passed 240-190, is the first time Congress has significantly acted on gun control legislation since the 2012 Newtown, Conn., massacre of schoolchildren and staff and a slew of mass shootings since.
“As a gun owner and a supporter of the Second Amendment, I believe that with rights come responsibilities, including keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, terrorists and domestic abusers,” McAdams said, adding that background checks are a “proven way to stop dangerous individuals from getting a gun, while not interfering with law-abiding gun owners.”
Federal law already requires background checks for people purchasing weapons from licensed dealers but gun control advocates argue that loopholes allow people to buy firearms at gun shows and in private sales that bypass screening for convicted felons and others legally barred from access to firearms.
Utah Reps. Rob Bishop, John Curtis and Chris Stewart, all Republicans, voted against the measure.
“This bill addresses a fabricated threat and makes criminals out of the innocent,” Bishop said after voting against the legislation. “This equates to nothing more than a false sense of security promoted by those who refuse to address real threats to safety.”
Bishop, a former gun lobbyist, said the focus should be on keeping firearms away from criminals instead of infringing on the Second Amendment. He said that the legislation wouldn’t have prevented any of the “tragic mass shootings of recent years.”
“Safety ought to trump politics," Bishop said, “and politics ought never trump the Constitution.”
The measure is likely doomed in the Senate, where Republicans are in control. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., isn’t expected to bring it up for a vote. The White House has also said President Donald Trump would veto the bill if it passed Congress.
The legislation would require background checks for all gun sales or transfers, including private purchases.
Gun control advocates hailed the passage of the bill Wednesday and pushed for the Senate to have the courage to follow suit.
“Today’s historic gun safety victory in Congress is a testament to courage,” said former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, who survived an attempted assassination in 2011 when a gunman shot her in the head and killed six others.
“When the days were darkest, when it looked like the gun lobby’s money and influence would forever silence any debate in Washington about stronger gun laws, courage shone through,” Giffords added. “Courage embodied by relentless advocates and resilient survivors who never lost sight of the fact that a safer future is possible.”
Previous efforts to bring up gun control legislation in the House when it was controlled by Republicans have failed despite a wave of mass shootings.
The government moved to ban so-called “bump stocks,” devices that accelerate firing of bullets in semi-automatic rifles, after a Las Vegas massacre left 58 people dead and more than 800 injured.
Republicans on Wednesday were able to push through an amendment to the legislation that would require notifying Immigration and Customs Enforcement if someone in the country without legal documents attempts to buy a weapon and is caught in a background check.
McAdams voted for that amendment as well as for the bill.