To cheers, Dem-run House OKs gun background checks bill
The passage of the background checks bill in the House yesterday was the first national legislative success for the masses of young people who participated in the March for Our Lives in the nation's capital. | Jose Luis Magana/AP

WASHINGTON—With teachers, their unions, gun control groups and – most importantly – students cheering, the Democratic-run House approved the nation’s first significant gun-control legislation in years, mandating background checks all the time by every gun seller of every gun buyer.

After the 240-190 vote on the measure, HR8, on Feb. 27, the House was poised to approve a second gun-control measure the next day, lengthening the mandatory waiting periods gun buyers must undergo.

All but eight Republicans followed the gun lobby’s line, parroted its scare slogan that the ultimate goal of gun control advocates was “to take your guns away,” and voted against HR8. GOP President Donald Trump’s advisers recommended he veto both bills.

The legislation marks significant wins for March For Our Lives, the nationwide campaign organized by the student survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School massacre in Florida on Valentine’s Day 2018.

There, the murderer, an ex-student, killed 14 students and three teachers, all of them members of the American Federation of Teachers.

AFT President Randi Weingarten and National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen-Garcia – both of them classroom teachers – have been outspoken gun-control advocates, and foes of the infamous and vicious radical right gun lobby, the National Rifle Association.

And both the teachers and the students have denounced the GOP-NRA “solution”: Arming teachers and other school staffers, thus turning schools into potential war zones.

The student-led movement swept the country – and pushed millions of youthful voters to the polls last fall, with one goal in mind: Vote out the NRA’s political favorites. Youth turnout tripled.  Adult gun-control groups, such as one led by former Rep. Gabby Giffords, outraised and outspent the NRA.

Prominent pro-NRA lawmakers, all of them Republicans – including the one whose Virginia district houses NRA’s headquarters — went down the drain in November. And congressional Democrats leaped to write, and pass, the gun control measures.

March For Our Lives, the student-led movement for gun control, cheered HR8 and the upcoming waiting-period measure, HR1112. But it also urged members and their allies to call their senators, since, as one tweet put it, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kent., refuses to bring gun control legislation up for votes there.

“Today, the House voted on H.R.8, AKA the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, and it PASSED! One of the first pieces of gun violence prevention legislation in a decade cleared the first hurdle toward becoming a law,” March For Our Lives tweeted.

“It’s GO TIME!” the second tweet, from Jaclyn, a March For Our Lives leader, said. “The House just passed the background checks bill, but the Senate will be the real uphill battle. Call 1-866-368-5630 and tell your senator to vote YES on S42, the Background Checks Expansion Act, before their office closes at 5 pm ET.”

“We have a gun violence epidemic in this country,” Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., told his colleagues. “For eight years, we have marked it with moments of silence and doing nothing, saying nothing and doing nothing. That changes with passage of HR8 for universal background checks.”

The background checks work, he added, because after the Brady gun control bill passed during the GOP Reagan administration – and Reagan signed it – “3.5 million illegal gun sales were prevented,” he added. Politely, Cicilline, a leader in the Congressional Progressive Caucus, did not add that a subsequent GOP-run Congress let another part of the Brady law, its assault weapons ban, lapse.

“Of course, there is a huge loophole,” Cicilline added. “One in five, 22 percent, of guns are sold with no background check. That means criminals, domestic abusers, and people prohibited due to mental illness can get a gun. This bill changes that. We also know that states” with “enhanced background checks have lower rates of gun homicides, gun suicide rates, and gun trafficking. This is a commonsense bill to protect the American people from the scourge of gun violence.”

Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., reminded her colleagues not of the mass shootings that led to HR8, but of the daily carnage that disproportionately wounds and kills people of color. It “occurs across our country, on our streets, in our schools, and even in our houses of worship,” she added. HR8 would help curb that.

“While school shootings are rare, more can and must be done to prevent them,” Weingarten wrote in an op-ed. “This ranges from improving the physical security of schools” by limiting entry to providing more counselors. It does not mean, Weingarten said, arming teachers – the favorite scheme of Trump Education Secretary Elizabeth “Betsy” DeVos. Teachers and students agree with Weingarten.

“But schools can’t do this alone,” she continued. So teacher unions and gun-control groups “call on lawmakers to implement strategies proven to help enhance school safety and reduce gun violence.”

They include the two measures the House passed, “red flag” laws which restrict gun access by people who show “clear warning signs” they’re a threat to themselves or others, responsible firearms storage and raising the age for purchase of semi-automatic weapons.

“It’s time for children and common sense to take priority, not the National Rifle Association’s fearmongering…Frankly, policymakers who put campaign contributions from the NRA and gun manufacturers ahead of Americans’ safety are complicit in this crisis. Teachers will continue to speak out against these warped priorities,” Weingarten promised.

The “background checks bill is the first real concrete step towards ending gun violence. It offers more than ‘thoughts and prayers’ to keep students safer,” Eskelsen-Garcia said. She reiterated the need for more gun-control measures, and emphasized the gun control votes show “elections matter.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.