On Wednesday, February 27, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the most historic piece of gun legislation our country has seen in decades—the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, a.k.a. H.R. 8—in a vote of 240 to 190. If the Senate passes the bill, hundreds of thousands of American lives would be spared from gun violence.
MarieClaire.com spoke to Moms Demand Action Founder Shannon Watts to discuss the groundbreaking universal background checks bill, and what Americans can do to help it pass through the U.S. Senate.
What Is H.R. 8 and Why Is It Important?
Under the nation's current federal law, licensed gun dealers are required to run a background check to make sure buyers don't have a criminal record or a history of mental illness. However, this excludes private sellers, a.k.a. those who are unlicensed dealers. Think: sellers at places like gun shows or on the internet. H.R. 8 would close this loophole.
There are exemptions to H.R. 8, like "gifts to family members and transfers for hunting, target shooting, and self-defense."
How Can Unlicensed Dealers Sell Guns in the First Place?
There's a loophole in the 1994 Brady Bill that exempts places like gun shows and the internet from having to conduct background checks. As Watts points out, in the '90s nobody imagined there would be a huge unregulated online marketplace.
"This happens every day in this country. It may not be the mass school shootings we always hear about, but being able to have easy access to guns, particularly for criminals, is incredibly dangerous," says Watts. "It's why America has the highest rate of gun violence than any other high-income country—because we have such lax gun laws."
You can see exactly how H.R. 8 would expand the background checks in the Brady Bill to cover all private firearm sales here.
Why Does the NRA Oppose This Bipartisan Bill?
In the weeks leading up to the House vote, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has been putting pressure on the public to oppose H.R. 8.
According to Watts, the NRA has been trying to convince the American people that background checks are already conducted in this country, but what they don't make clear is that they're only done on commercial sales to licensed dealers. The NRA also wants you to believe that background checks don't work.
"If you buy a gun online and arrange to meet the person to make the sale, the seller does not have to do a backgrounds check because they're an unlicensed dealer," explains Watts. "The NRA say criminals will always get guns no matter what and they won't follow the law, but we know that isn't true. The current background check law in this country has stopped over 3 million gun sales to prohibited purchasers since it was passed. We know these laws work, but the NRA doesn't want us to believe they do."
What Happens Next?
H.R. 8 needs to pass through the Senate, then Donald Trump. More than 90 percent of American gun owners support universal background checks, yet the Republican-controlled Senate is hesitant to pass any gun control bills.
Politicians like Steve Scalise claim that people would be unable to protect themselves from domestic violence and considered a criminal if someone loaned them their gun.
Six days after the Parkland shooting on February 14, 2018 that killed 17 students and faculty, Donald Trump tweeted, "Whether we are Republican or Democrat, we must now focus on strengthening Background Checks!"
Two days later, he said he would prioritize enhancing background checks. "I will be strongly pushing Comprehensive Background Checks with an emphasis on Mental Health. Raise age to 21 and end sale of Bump Stocks! Congress is in a mood to finally do something on this issue - I hope!"
It's been over a year since the shooting, and he has yet to follow through with this promise, but as Watts says, "We're taking this one step at a time."
What's the Charleston Loophole Bill People Are Talking About?
On Thursday, February 28, the House voted to pass the Charleston Loophole Bill in relation to H.R. 8. Currently, if a person's background check doesn't clear within three days, a commercial dealer can go ahead and sell the gun to the person. The bill would extend this from three days to 10 days. This is how the gunman who murdered nine African Americans in a Charleston, South Carolina church bought his gun.
How Can I Encourage the Senate to Pass H.R. 8?
It's unclear when the Senate will vote on H.R. 8. (U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell first needs to introduce it.) However, there are three important steps you can take in the meantime to encourage Senators to pass the bipartisan background checks bill.
Step 1: Consider Joining a Grassroots Organization
Join a grassroots organization like Moms Demand Action, part of the Everytown for Gun Safety network, which has already setup 170 meetings with members of Congress to convince them to vote for H.R. 8. You'll have the support of thousands of other members who also believe in the safety and protection of the American people.
Step 2: Actually Do It
Get involved with Moms Demand Action by texting "JOIN" to 64433. (FYI, you don't have to be a mother to join.) They'll tell you what meetings you can attend with your Senators either in your district or in Washington, D.C.
Step 3: Call Your Senators
If you don't want to join Moms Demand Action right away, you can still reach out to your Senators to put pressure on them and let them know how you feel about the passage of H.R. 8. March For Our Lives makes it easy for you:
You can also receive mobile alerts from Everytown on legislation updates.
"The midterms were a very strong signal to lawmakers that Americans want stronger gun laws, and we've seen it plenty of times where lawmakers change their minds," recalls Watts. "We passed H.R. 8 through the House, and now we'll focus on the Senate. Then we'll focus on the president. This is going to happen. I don't know how long this will take, but this legislation will pass."
If you want to donate to Everytown for Gun Safety, the largest gun violence prevention organization in the country, to support its efforts in fighting for common-sense gun reform, you can do so below.