THE HOUSE last week passed two major gun-control bills. We say “major” not because they would lead to sweeping changes in policy. In fact, they are pretty modest. They are major, though, in contrast with Congress’s total inaction on gun control in recent years. The last effort came in 2013, in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., massacre. A bipartisan bill to enhance federal background checks failed in the Senate.

Mass shooting after mass shooting occurs unanswered, while everyday gun violence takes its less spectacular but far more deadly toll. But in the 2018 elections, in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., shooting, voters elevated a new crop of Democrats committed to fighting the carnage. The two House bills are the first tangible indication the new majority is unafraid of the gun lobby.

The bills would take useful steps. The first would close loopholes that allow people to avoid background checks in many gun sales and transfers. Parties to private sales would have to find a federally licensed dealer to conduct a proper background check. The second bill would give federal authorities 10 days, up from the current three, in which to conduct their background checks. This would close the “Charleston loophole,” which allowed a racist zealot to buy guns because his quick background check did not reveal information about a drug arrest. He went on to slaughter worshipers in an African American church in South Carolina.

There should be little serious opposition to these measures. If the federal government is going to have background checks, they should be effective and universal. Gun enthusiasts cite the ideal of a well-trained, responsible and armed populace. They cannot then logically oppose measures meant to ensure that gun buyers are, in fact, responsible citizens.

Yet almost every Republican voted against the measures, and in the Republican-controlled Senate their prospects are grim. Even if Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) brought the bills to a vote, it is unlikely they would fare any better than the 2013 Manchin-Toomey compromise that failed to attract 60 votes. On top of which, President Trump has promised a veto.

This political reality says more about Senate Republicans and Mr. Trump than it does about the legislation’s merits. Though this year House Democrats might succeed only in expressing where they stand on the issue, at least they have elevated it and shown that the National Rifle Association does not control both parties and both sides of the Capitol. Democrats’ newfound willingness to broach the issue and stand up to the bullies of the NRA carries the possibility of progress down the road.

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