Gun News of the Week: House Representatives Propose Bill Requiring Broader Background Checks

Plus: Texas case may challenge the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act

TOP STORY

And So, It Begins: Democrat-Controlled House Stages First Gun-Control Bill Hearing In Six Years

Representative Mike Thompson has introduced a series of bills to expand background checks for gun purchases over the years, with the latest iteration dying in committee limbo in 2013.

On Feb. 6 — nearly six years later — the House Judiciary Committee convened to hear the California Democrat’s revised attempt to get a background check bill adopted. And this version goes beyond its predecessors by requiring background checks for all firearms sales, no exceptions.

The hearing — an emotional fiddlefest of little legislative substance — was orchestrated by committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and signals the beginning of what will be a ceaseless campaign to impose restrictive federal gun control measures by the newly reconfigured Democrat-controlled House.

The bill, H.R.8 - Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, has 231 co-sponsors. Among them is five Republicans, including Rep. Peter King of New York, who has joined with Thompson several times in the past in pushing universal background bills.

In fact, the Feb. 6 hearing was the first congressional panel review of any type on any proposed gun control measure since Thompson and King introduced essentially the same background checks bill in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting that killed 20 students and six adults in late 2012.

“For far too long, Republicans in Congress have offered moments of silence instead of action in the wake of gun tragedies. That era is over,” Nadler said, opening the hearing that lasted five hours and ended without committee action.

Thompson — a lifelong hunter, Vietnam War veteran and chairman of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force — was invited by Nadler to sit with the hearing’s eight witnesses.

No action was taken on Thompson’s bill nor did the committee set a date for a vote.

Even if approved by the House, Thompson’s measure will face tougher going in the Senate, which rejected background checks in 2013, with five Democrats joining 41 Republicans in denying the 60 votes needed for approval.

“We’ll put it on their doorstep,” Thompson said. “The will of the people is on our side. The senators will hear from their constituents.”

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FREED TRADE

New Export Rules Expand Global Market For U.S. Gun-Makers

Under new rules that go into effect in March, American firearms manufacturers will no longer need licenses from the U.S. State Department to sell dozens of types of weapons in other countries, including semi-automatics such as the AR-15 and, conceivably, even flamethrowers and some grenades

New rules put in place by the Trump Administration to streamline export requirements for American manufacturers, sellers now only need only a no-fee license from the U.S. Department of Commerce. The State Department license cost $2,240.

The new rules are designed to assist American gun manufacturers by making it simpler to export products that the administration says are already “widely available for retail sale in the United States.”

Exports of weapons that have an “inherently military function” or to provide the U.S. with a military advantage will remain controlled by the State Department.

House Democrats, claiming the new rules make it almost impossible to track how American-made weapons are used by overseas buyers, are expected to challenge Trump’s authority to issue the revamped rules without Congressional oversight.

The Trump administration first proposed the changes last year. The State Department sent the final version of the rules to key lawmakers on Feb. 4 as part of the mandatory “congressional notification” process.

The rules will take effect 30 days later unless Congress passes a resolution to block them.

Under the new regulatory scheme, an American company that wants to export flamethrowers that project a stream of fire up to 66 feet, or grenades that contain “non-lethal or less lethal projectiles,” can do so.

The changes also mean sales of less than $1 million in arms will not require advance notification to Congress, which allows lawmakers a period of time to block a potential sale. That process has in the past been used to stop sales of firearms to countries of concern.

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STATE ROUNDUP

As Expected, 2018 'Blue Wave' Will Have Gun-owners Seeing Red (Flag Laws) In 2019

Democrats gained more than 250 seats in state legislatures across the nation in November’s elections, boosting their numbers in 62 of 87 chambers and “flipping” Republican majorities in seven states.

Elections have consequences and the repercussions are already manifesting by the bushel-load in the form of gun-control bills being submitted in state capitals nationwide as legislatures convene 2019 sessions.

In 2018, 27 state legislatures passed 67 new laws aimed at restricting access to guns. According to a Feb. 7 analysis by Stateline’s Matt Vasilogambros, expect more — far more — in 2019/

“Momentum for stricter firearms laws in states across the country likely will accelerate this year,” Vasilogambros writes. “In states where Democrats made big gains in the November elections, lawmakers are quickly moving legislation to raise the buying age for guns and to ban assault-style weapons. Other measures, including bills to limit gun access for domestic abusers and people who may harm themselves or others, have increasing bipartisan support.”

“There’s been a flood of new legislation,” State University of New York College Political Science Professor Robert Spitzer told Vasilogambros. “With more state legislatures in Democratic hands, with the sense you can enforce new gun laws and it not be a stigma, there’s not only momentum but concrete evidence that those who want to see stronger gun laws are making headway.”

Already in 2019, lawmakers in more than a dozen states have introduced at least 50 major gun control bills, including measures to expand background checks and ban lethal accessories like bump stocks, according to a count by the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Some early examples cited by Stateline:

— The New York legislature in January passed six measures that ban bump stocks, extend waiting periods for gun purchases, prevent teachers from carrying guns in schools and allow law enforcement to remove guns from people judged to pose a danger to themselves or others.

— In one of his first acts as Illinois’ newly elected governor, Democrat J.B. Pritzker signed legislation Jan. 17 that further regulates gun stores throughout the state by requiring certifications.

— Bipartisan lawmakers in Arizona, Kentucky, Oregon and Texas are seeking to pass measures to ban people convicted of domestic abuse from purchasing and possessing firearms. Last year, 12 states passed similar laws.

— Lawmakers in Nevada are considering bans on bump stocks, attempting to join the eight states that passed similar measures last year.

— Maryland, New Mexico and Pennsylvania are considering strengthening background checks.

— Nearly a dozen states, including Colorado, Maine, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota and Pennsylvania, are considering “red flag” laws. Last year, eight states enacted red flag laws, including five signed by Republican governors.

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IN THE COURTS

Texas Ruling Allows PLCAA Challenge To Proceed

Bexar County District Court Judge Karen Pozza ruled on Feb. 4 that the families of victims of the November 2017 Sutherland Springs, Texas, church shooting that killed 26 people can sue the gun store that sold the murder weapon.

The ruling is yet another potential precedent-setting challenge to the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), adopted by Congress in 2005 to protect firearms manufacturers and dealers from being held liable when crimes are committed with their products.

Efforts to repeal the PLCAA are being mounted in the Democrat-controlled House and there are at least two other suits nationwide -- relating to the 2012 shootings in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater and the Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut — seeking to make it possible for victims of gun violence to sue firearms manufacturers and dealers on a broader array of grounds.

On Nov. 5, 2017, Devin Patrick Kelley killed 26 people at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs with a Ruger AR-556 rifle, a semi-automatic military-style rifle that he purchased from Academy Sports+Outdoors, a gun shop in San Antonio.

Several families of his victims brought a suit against Academy, arguing the gun shop was liable for selling Kelley the weapon. Academy petitioned to have the lawsuit thrown out, but on Feb. 4, Pozza declined to toss the case.

According to Jack Crosbie of Splinternews.com, the lawsuit was filed by Chris Ward, who lost his wife and two children in the shooting and focuses specifically on Academy’s decision to sell Kelley a 30-round high-capacity magazine for the Ruger AR.

At the time, Kelley was a Colorado resident. Thirty-round magazines are legal in Texas, but not in Colorado. Ward and his lawyers argue that Academy shouldn’t have sold Ward the gun and high-cap mag when he bought it with a Colorado ID.

“Academy is the gatekeeper to protect people from buying guns who shouldn’t have them,” Ward’s attorney Jason Webster said. “When you have a guy who’s 850 miles from his home and paying cash, that kind of raises some flags.”

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