WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Jared Golden was one of two House Democrats to oppose two gun control bills that passed the chamber on Thursday and would require background checks on firearms transfers and expand a review period for gun purchases.
Similar bills were passed by the House in 2019 after Democrats won the majority, but languished in the GOP-controlled Senate. Democrats now hold the Senate giving the party hope as the legislation will at least be considered. But the bills would need significant bipartisan support to pass in the upper chamber, where Republican support will be hard to fund.
The renewed push is the latest effort by Democrats — and some Republicans — who have repeatedly tried, and failed, to pass tougher gun control laws since the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that killed 20 children and six educators.
While enhanced background checks are generally popular with the American public, Congress has so far not been able to find compromise on the issue. It is unclear whether Senate Democrats could find deep enough support among Republicans to pass new gun control legislation in a 50-50 Senate, as they would need 60 votes to do so.
“The gun violence crisis in America is a challenge to the conscience of our country — one that demands that we act,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said during floor debate on the bills Wednesday. “These solutions will save lives.”
The first bill, which passed 227-203, is designed to close loopholes to ensure background checks are extended to private and online sales that often go undetected, including at gun shows. The legislation includes limited exceptions allowing temporary transfers to prevent imminent harm, for use at a target range and for gifts from family, among others.
The second bill, which passed 219-210, would extend the review period for background checks from three to 10 days. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., introduced the legislation after a shooter killed nine people at a Charleston, S.C., church in 2015. The FBI said afterward that a background check examiner never saw the shooter’s previous arrest report because the wrong arresting agency was listed in state criminal history records, and the gun dealer was legally permitted to complete the transaction after three days.
While the House bills have Republican cosponsors and won a handful of GOP votes, most Republicans voted against them. During the floor debate, Republicans argued that the background checks would not stop most mass shootings and would mistakenly prevent some lawful gun owners from purchasing firearms.
Golden was the lone Democrat to oppose the first bill and one of two to oppose Clyburn’s measure. He largely agreed with the Republican arguments after voting against similar versions of these bills in early 2019. A background check referendum that would have imposed a law similar to the House bill was rejected by Mainers in 2016, driven by opposition in the sophomore congressman’s swing 2nd Congressional District.
In a statement, he said “we need to strictly enforce the laws we have in place” and provide money and staffing to the current background check system.
“Many of my constituents have a proud tradition of responsible gun ownership,” Golden said.
Democrats are hoping that there’s a gradual political shift among voters that could help them win GOP votes. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, who has introduced a companion bill expanding background checks in the Senate, said he doesn’t think Democrats should just accept that there aren’t 60 votes.
But change does not come easy in the Senate as many in the GOP base are still viscerally opposed to any new gun control. Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a moderate, have worked together for years to find compromise on background checks but have yet to propose anything that will pass.
In a statement, a spokesman for Toomey said the senator remains supportive of a previous bipartisan proposal with Manchin but believes “progress is only possible on this issue if the measure in question is narrow and protects the rights of law-abiding gun owners.”
Story by Mary Clare Jalonick. BDN writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.