The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion We are conservatives. We urge our fellow Republicans to support this gun safety bill.

Signs during a protest against guns on Feb. 17, 2018, on the steps of the Broward County Federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (Brynn Anderson/AP)

Ryan Costello represented Pennsylvania’s 6th Congressional District from 2015 to 2019. Carlos Curbelo represented Florida’s 26th Congressional District from 2015 to 2019. Both are strategic advisers for Everytown for Gun Safety.

This week, for the first time in more than two decades, the U.S. House of Representatives will hold a vote on major stand-alone gun safety legislation in the form of H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019. As conservatives with a deep respect for the Second Amendment and as former Republican members of Congress, we urge our fellow Republicans in the House and Senate to get behind this legislation to require background checks on all gun sales.

If you watch a lot of cable news or subscribe to National Rifle Association newsletters, you would be forgiven for believing that gun safety vs. believing in the Second Amendment is an either-or proposition. The truth is, the American people know that our right to protect our families goes hand in hand with laws that help keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.

The Bipartisan Background Checks Act is not only consistent with the Second Amendment; it’s also as common-sense as any piece of legislation we voted on during our combined eight years in Congress.

What it would do is simple: It would require a background check for every gun sale — not just for sales by licensed dealers, as the Brady Act has required since it went into effect in 1994, but also for unlicensed sales between strangers who meet online or at gun shows. It is a common-sense way to fully carry out the spirit of that existing federal law.

This bill doesn’t take away anyone’s guns, create a firearms registry or threaten the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens. It simply ensures that people who would fail a background check if they attempted to buy a gun from a licensed dealer in a brick-and-mortar store can’t go to an unlicensed online seller to buy a gun without the check. And make no mistake, people who cannot pass a background check are trying to arm themselves through online sales: A recent Everytown for Gun Safety investigation into the online gun marketplace in Florida found that 1 in 7 people trying to buy guns from unlicensed sellers on would fail a background check.

If signed into law, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act would represent a critical step in the right direction, at a time when more and more Americans are touched by gun violence, and when people’s anger with Washington dysfunction is at an all-time high.

This legislation is firmly in line with Republican principles. It’s a way to enforce existing laws and to make good on our talk about increasing public safety.

This legislation isn’t just good policy; it’s also good politics, and it’s what the American people want. Support for background checks on all gun sales routinely measures above 80 percent in public polling, including support from a vast majority of Republicans and gun owners. It’s an opportunity for Republicans to meet people where they stand on an issue they care deeply about.

It’s also an opportunity for Republicans to show, through our actions, that our priority is to govern and get things done.

But perhaps most important, it’s an opportunity to do the right thing and be on the right side of history.

We’re well aware of the perceived power that the NRA wields over members of Congress, in particular over elected Republicans. But if the past election cycle proved anything, it’s that its grip on our politics is breaking. For the first time in almost 20 years, the gun lobby’s favorability ratings are underwater across the country. In many races, particularly in suburban districts and among critical voting blocs including women and young people, the NRA’s support was a liability for candidates. It doesn’t take much foresight to see — as the school-lockdown generation comes of voting age — that it’s only a matter of time before our laws catch up with the country’s sentiment on gun safety.

We remember how it felt to represent Floridians and Pennsylvanians after the mass shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland and Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, respectively. We know every member of Congress, across party lines, represents countless constituents who have been affected by gun violence, even when it hasn’t made front-page news.

We urge our former colleagues, Republican and Democratic, to listen to the vast majority of the American people and support a law to require background checks on all gun sales.

Read more:

Robert Gebelhoff: This is how we save lives from gun violence

The Post’s View: How many more young Americans have to die for gun laws to change?

Helaine Olen: A year after the Parkland massacre, we still aren’t protecting our children

The Post’s View: Houston’s police chief knows what’s needed on guns. It isn’t thoughts and prayers.

Kerry Donley, Elizabeth Bennett-Parker and Richard Merritt: What Alexandria is doing to take the gun-violence crisis into our own hands