The bill aims to close the “Charleston loophole,” a reference to the 2015 killings of nine black parishioners at a South Carolina church. The gunman was able to purchase the weapons after a three-day federal background check failed to turn up a prior conviction.
Jennifer Pinckney, the widow of one of the Charleston shooting victims, was present in the House gallery with her daughters for Thursday’s vote.
The measure’s passage follows Wednesday’s vote on a separate bill expanding federal background checks for gun purchases and transfers. President Trump has threatened to veto both measures, and they stand little chance of passage in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The bills represent the first major firearms legislation in more than a decade, part of a new — if cautious — push by House Democrats to combat the country’s gun violence epidemic since they retook control of the chamber in January.
The legislation was spearheaded by House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), who referenced the 2015 shooting in an impassioned floor speech.
“The members of this august body need to think a little bit about the value of those lives. Are they more valuable than the inconvenience a gun purchaser may have by having to wait 10 rather than three days to make a purchase?” he said.
On the House floor on Thursday, Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) mentioned her experience as she proposed adding a provision that would allow firearms to be transferred to domestic violence victims after a maximum of three business days.
In New Jersey, the application of a woman w/ a restraining order against her ex-boyfriend took longer than 40 days to process, and he killed her while she was waiting to protect herself legally. For many, prolonging the background check process is a matter of life or death. pic.twitter.com/wECnaqwt9S— Congresswoman Debbie Lesko (@RepDLesko) February 28, 2019
“As most of you know, I am a survivor of domestic violence, and that is why this motion to recommit is so personally important to me,” Lesko said to the chamber. She then told the story of a woman in New Jersey who was killed by her abuser while waiting for her firearm application to be approved.
“Do we really want to tell victims of domestic violence they have to wait up to 20 business days — which is under this bill — before they are allowed to adequately defend themselves?” she asked.
“No!” some lawmakers shouted in response.
Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) rose to urge Democrats to oppose Lesko’s proposal, recounting the details of her experience growing up as the daughter of a domestic abuser.
“My father was mentally ill. I had to hide in that closet with my siblings, wondering if we would live or die. One night, I kept my father from killing my mother. He shouldn’t have had a gun,” Dingell said, prompting applause from some in the House chamber.
She said she remembered her mother going out to buy a gun — “and then all of us were scared to death about her gun and my father’s gun.”
“We had two guns to worry about. No child, no woman, no man should ever have to go through that,” she said, prompting more applause and a standing ovation from some lawmakers. “I oppose this motion with every bit of my heart and soul, and urge my colleagues to do the same.”
Lesko’s motion fell short of being adopted on a 194-to-232 vote.
The three Republicans voting “yes” on Thursday’s measure were Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Peter T. King (N.Y.) and Christopher H. Smith (N.J.). The seven Democrats who voted against the measure were Reps. Anthony Brindisi (N.Y.), Jared Golden (Maine), Kendra Horn (Okla.), Ron Kind (Wis.), Ben McAdams (Utah), Collin C. Peterson (Minn.) and Xochitl Torres Small (N.M.).
Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.