House members reintroduce background-check bill

A bipiartisan group of House members led by the Bay Area’s Mike Thompson and Pete King, R-N.Y., has re-introduced a bill that would require background checks for all firearm purchases, including those at gun shows, over the internet or in classified ads.

But with Republicans in control of the House and Senate, the bill seems doomed from the get-go – especially given that it went nowhere in the last Congress.

H.R. 1217, the Public Safety and Second Amendment Rights Protection Act of 2015, would provide exceptions for family and friend transfers. Its original co-authors are Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa.; Pat Meehan, R-Pa.; Bob Dold, R-Ill.; Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.; Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn.; and Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y.

Mike Thompson“This anti-criminal, pro-Second Amendment bill will help keep spouses, kids and communities safe by preventing dangerous people from getting guns,” Thompson, D-St. Helena, said in a news release. “Background checks are the first line of defense in our efforts to keep guns from criminals, domestic abusers and the dangerously mentally ill, and Congress should fortify that first line of defense by passing our bipartisan bill to close the system’s loopholes.”

King noted the bill also would improve state and federal record-keeping to strengthen the background-check database, and would create a commission to examine mass-violence incidents.

“When background checks are used, they keep guns out of the hands of people we all agree shouldn’t have guns,” he said. “It is estimated that four out of 10 gun buyers do not go through a background check when purchasing a firearm – meaning those with criminal records can easily bypass the system. As government officials it is our responsibility to protect our citizens, and when it comes to gun violence we must do more.”

The bill’s authors say studies show that every day where background checks are used, the system stops more than 170 felons, some 50 domestic abusers, and nearly 20 fugitives from buying a gun. But in much of the nation, no system is in place to prevent these same prohibited purchasers from buying identical guns at a gun show, over the internet, or through a newspaper ad with no questions asked.

But the bill also bans the government from creating a federal registry and makes the misuse of records a felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. It also provides exceptions for firearms transfers between family members, friends and hunting buddies; lets active military personnel buy guns in the state in which they are stationed; and allows interstate handgun sales from licensed dealers.

If this sounds familiar, that’s because it’s identical to the bill Thompson and King authored introduced in 2013 – but though it had 188 co-sponsors, H.R. 1565 was never even heard in committee. It’s also the same as the Manchin-Toomey amendment that failed in the Senate in April 2013.

The National Rifle Association opposes expanding background checks, claiming they won’t stop criminals from getting firearms by theft or via the black market.

But Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said this should be “a no-brainer.”

Ninety-two percent of the American public supports this measure to keep guns out of the hands of people like domestic abusers, rapists, and fugitives,” Gross said. “More importantly, it will save lives. We need to let our representatives know that we will not tolerate them putting the interests of the corporate gun lobby ahead of the lives and safety of the citizens they have been elected to represent.”

This new bill has been referred to the House Judiciary and Veterans’ Affairs committees; don’t hold your breath waiting for a hearing date


Mike Honda offers body armor, gun control bills

Rep. Mike Honda introduced a package of three bills this week that he said will increase public safety and aid law enforcement – and are sure to drive gun-rights activists into a rage.

honda.jpgHonda, D-San Jose, on Wednesday introduced H.R. 378, the Responsible Body Armor Possession Act, which would prohibit the purchase, sale, or possession of military-grade body armor by anyone except certain authorized users such as first-responders and law enforcement. This is his second try at such legislation; the bill he introduced last summer died in the Judiciary Committee without a hearing.

He also introduced H.R. 377, the Homemade Firearms Accountability Act, which would require that guns that are self-assembled or manufactured at home be regulated the same as those that are purchased. That means all homemade guns would have to have serial numbers. Here too, Honda tried this in the last Congress, but his bill died in the Judiciary Committee without a hearing.

But H.R. 376, the Home-Assembled Firearms Restriction Act, is a new one – it would ban the sale and purchase of “incomplete lower receivers,” which are easily purchased and converted into functioning firearms.

AR15 incomplete lower receiverThis could be the most controversial of the three. There’s a big trade in incomplete lower receivers, which often let gun enthusiasts build weapons they wouldn’t be able to buy in stores due to existing laws.

“These bills are sensible, reasonable measures to limit the damage that can be inflicted by guns and those who mean harm with them,” Honda said in a news release. “We have seen too many people injured and killed by guns to just stand by and do nothing. These bills will modernize our gun laws to reflect how weapons are currently getting into the wrong hands.”

Honda’s office said the whole package is supported by Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, Newark Police Chief James Leal, Stop Handgun Violence, the Coalition for Peace Action, and the Violence Policy Center. The body-armor bill also is supported by the Peace Officers Research Association of California and the California State Sheriffs’ Association. And the serial-number bill also is supported by Third Way and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Honda’s office said he’ll be introducing legislation in each of this Congress’ first six weeks “that addresses a key part of the modern progressive agenda.” Last week, he offered four bills on manufacturing and technology; in coming weeks he’ll tackle human trafficking, STEM education, advanced technology, and the environment and energy infrastructure.


Reactions to Barbara Boxer’s decision not to run

Click here to read our full story on Boxer’s decision.

From U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.:

“It was 22 years ago this week when Barbara became a senator, and she has certainly left her mark. After I spoke with Barbara this morning about her decision, I realized that even though she may leave the Senate, I’m confident she’ll remain a champion on the many issues that defined her public service.

“Barbara took on a lot of challenges in Congress, but I think I’m most grateful for her hard work in support of women and families, the environment, human rights and her tireless efforts to modernize our country’s infrastructure. She has made a real difference for California and the country.

“Barbara and I worked particularly hard on the fight against global warming—I think no one is more engaged on this issue than she. It’s been an uphill battle, but today we’re seeing the success Barbara has had on making climate change a real priority for Americans.

“I always knew I had a partner in Barbara. She is never one to shy away from any challenge, and I can’t thank her enough for being such a resilient collaborator. We blazed many trails together, and now I’m eager to see where her next steps take her. Barbara is so passionate about so many things, I know her work has really just started. I’m sure she’ll continue to be a role model and inspiration to us all.

“Barbara, thank you and best wishes as you take that next step forward. It has been a true honor to serve with you.”

From California Republican Party Vice Chairwoman Harmeet Dhillon:

Harmeet Dhillon“Senator Boxer’s impending retirement at the end of 2016 will bring a long-overdue opportunity for change to California’s representation in the Senate. For far too long Senator Boxer has pushed a liberal agenda that does little to address the challenges facing millions of Californians and Americans alike. Important issues to Californians such as the economy, technology, energy policy, excessive regulation on small businesses, education, and meaningful immigration reform have fallen behind in the wake of her focus to push a strictly partisan agenda at the cost of California citizens. We look forward to a spirited campaign to replace Senator Boxer with someone more in line with the needs and the goals of California voters.”

From House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, at her weekly news conference:

Nancy Pelosi“She called me before I came down here. It’s funny, she called me and she said she wanted to talk to me personally. I thought maybe she wanted to have dinner tonight or something. Oh my. Well, her decision is an important one for her and her family. It’s all personal and individual. Senator Boxer has been such a champion for the people of California and, indeed, for our entire country.

“I have always said of Congresswoman Boxer, Senator Boxer – Congresswoman when I came to Congress – Senator Boxer, that she is – this will sound like an oxymoron to you, but she is one of the most unselfish politicians I have ever known of. She has always shared her ideas. She has always shared the credit. She has always tried to help people succeed with their ideas. She has reached across the aisle. She has reached across our state, which is a glorious state. And her leaving will be a great loss to the Congress of the United States, the people of California, and to our country.

“I hope as she goes – I assume that she’s not running, but she’ll be here the next two years – and in the course of that time, there will be real recognition of the difference that she has made for fairness in our economy, protection of our environment, respect for our men and women in uniform. She’s really a great leader for our country – small in size but a giant in terms of her contribution to the country. I didn’t know. As I said, all I had was a call from her, but I didn’t want to keep you waiting.

“It’s a real loss, I think. But God bless her, for her decision. And I wish her and Stewart and their family well. Thank you. My granddaughter just took her grandson out for their sixth birthday. They were born a couple months apart. So we are very close, from a family standpoint. Senator Boxer had a shower for my daughter, Christine, five days [before] – that would be six years [ago] – and the next day, her daughter Nicole had the baby, Sawyer. So they are just very close in age. And our family celebrations have been together over time, whether it’s weddings or babies or whatever. So, it’s a close personal friendship.

“Of course, I wish the best for her in that regard personally. Officially, I think it’s a big loss for the country. But she knows her timetable. Thank you very much.”

Much, much more, after the jump…
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Gun-rights backers decry Leland Yee’s hypocrisy

Gun-rights advocates are up in arms about state Sen. Leland Yee’s alleged double life – an ardent gun-control advocate in public, while secretly negotiating with purported mobsters to set up international gun deals.

“It appears that Leland Yee is not only an epic gun-control hypocrite, but also exactly the type of truly dangerous gun trafficking criminal who my clients have always urged authorities to throw the book at,” Chuck Michel, West Coast counsel for the National Rifle Association, said Thursday.

Leland YeeYee, D-San Francisco, famously has carried “bullet button” legislation, which would ban a common modification to semi-automatic rifles that lets users quickly swap out their ammunition magazines without running afoul of the state’s assault weapons law. His SB 47 was pulled from consideration last August, a few weeks before the end of the legislative session, but remains pending in the Assembly.

That bill was among eight that made up state Senate Democrats “LIFE Act” gun-control package last year.

“The prevalence of deadly, military-style weapons in our society has resulted in countless tragedies,” Yee said last April. “It is past time to put some common sense laws into place in order to prevent such tragedies in the future. The LIFE Act is a bold step forward in this effort.”

Yee is charged with conspiracy to traffic in firearms without a license and to illegally import firearms, and six counts of scheming to defraud citizens of “honest services.” Each corruption count is punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000, while the gun-trafficking count is punishable by up to five years and $250,000. Free on $500,000 bond, Yee is scheduled to return to court Monday.

An FBI affidavit says Yee told an undercover FBI agent he could facilitate big shipments of guns into the country in exchange for campaign contributions. No guns actually changed hands, but Yee accepted a $5,000 contribution from a bogus company set up by the agent as their negotiations continued in a series of face-to-face meetings from January through March 14. At one such meeting, Yee allegedly discussed specific locations in the Philippines and Florida that might be ideal for moving the guns, which he said would include M-16-type automatic rifles.

Consider what Yee said last October when Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would’ve classified all semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines as banned assault weapons.

“California’s Assault Weapons Ban has protected the public for decades,” Yee said at the time. “But we must work to make sure that it is capable of dealing with new threats that face California. In the Governor’s veto message, he spoke of the importance of our gun laws and the need to make sure they are carefully tailored. SB 47 will protect the public while keeping an appropriately narrow scope.”

Lots more, after the jump…
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Gun control groups say California is still tops

Eight states including California enacted major gun-control laws in the year since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., two big gun-control groups reported Monday.

Robyn Thomas“We really see this as a turning point on this issue,” Robyn Thomas, executive director of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, told reporters on a conference call Monday morning. “This year after Newtown, we got calls from 30 different states interested in introducing legislation. … That was an absolute watershed change from years past.”

The scorecard report put out by the Law Center and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence ranks all states based on 30 policy approaches to regulating guns and ammunition. States received points for having effective laws in each policy area, with stronger laws receiving more points. A letter grade (A to F) indicates the overall strength or weakness of a state’s gun laws.

California received an A- and continues to top the list of states with the nation’s strongest gun laws. But Connecticut jumped from ranking 4th to 2nd and is joined by New Jersey, New York, Delaware, and Maryland at the top of the list of states with strong gun laws, all of which also passed new legislation in 2013. States ranking at the bottom with the weakest gun laws include Arizona, Alaska, Wyoming, and South Dakota – many of which also have some of the highest gun death rates in the country.

Dan Gross“We think the Sandy Hook tragedy was a watershed moment,” Brady Campaign president Dan Gross said on the conference call. But watershed moments like this are only catalysts, he said: Ultimately laws don’t change unless people rise up and demand it. “Many states have listened to the will of the American people, state lawmakers have represented their constituents, while Congress has not.”

Laura Cutilletta, senior staff attorney at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said some of the new state laws were substantial. Five states – Connecticut, New York, Delaware, Colorado and Illinois – tightened their background check laws to include private sales. Four states – Illinois, New York, Maryland and Delaware – required owners to quickly report the loss or theft of their firearms. Three states – Connecticut, Maryland and New York – passed laws regulating ammunition sales with record keeping and/or background checks. Four states – California, Connecticut, New York and Maryland – beefed up their assault weapons laws in some way. And five states – California, New York, Connecticut, Colorado and Maryland – strengthened existing laws or added new ones dealing with ammunition magazines.

“To see this many states do this many substantive changes… is really quite amazing,” Cutilletta said.
While the states’ progress is encouraging, “we can’t have a patchwork system,” Gross said. “Now it’s time for Congress to follow the lead of these states.

But even though polls show the bipartisan legislation to expand background checks is supported by nine out of 10 Americans including four out of five gun owners, Gross said, getting such a bill through Congress requires reassuring lawmakers that passing it is in their political best interest. “If we can’t do that, we will not succeed in 2014.”

Gun_Rights_vs_Gun_Control_yearlylobying-01The Sunlight Foundation reported Monday that gun-control groups as of June 30 reported spending five times as much on federal lobbying in 2013 as they did in 2012 – about $1.6 million. Yet gun-rights groups still outspent by more than 7 to 1, sinking $12.2 million into the fight.

“The months following Sandy Hook saw not only an increase in the quantity of lobbying over gun control but in the nature of the lobbying,” writes Nancy Watzman of the Sunlight Reporting Group. “Much of the increased lobbying spending by gun control groups at the federal level went to hire lions of the Washington lobbyist establishment, big names who have gone through the revolving door from Congress and the executive branch.”

“Their typical clients are Fortune 500 companies and major trade associations, as opposed to clients with an ideological bent,” Watzman wrote. “For most, this was the first time they reported signing on to the gun issue. In this, the gun control groups were mirroring their opposition: The NRA has long hired outside lobbyists to supplement its staff. Overall, gun control groups reported hiring some three dozen lobbyists at eight lobbying firms. For the vast majority, it was the first time they reported lobbying on behalf of a gun control group.”

Gross said his group, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and many other groups and individuals are in this for the long haul; he noted that it took six votes over seven years to pass the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act of 1993. “It doesn’t happen overnight.”


Pelosi: ‘Finish the job’ on background checks

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Mike Thompson – House Democrats’ point man on gun violence issues – attended a Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence news conference Wednesday marking the 20th anniversary of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and calling on Congress to immediately pass bipartisan legislation on background checks.

Thompson, D-Napa, and Rep. Pete King, D-N.Y., introduced H.R. 1565 in the House in April; it mirrors the bipartisan Manchin-Toomney bill that the Senate rejected that same month. House Republican leaders have not allowed any hearings on the bill.

From Pelosi, D-San Francisco:

Nancy Pelosi“At the beginning of every Congress we take an oath of office to protect and defend – that’s our first responsibility. It’s an honor to take that oath, but I’m ashamed to be here to face all of you not having finished the job yet.

“We must be relentless in how we pursue this, how we protect and defend the American people. In the two decades since the Brady Bill was signed into law, over two million gun requests did not get approved. Imagine: it stopped two million illegal gun purchases and helped protect millions of Americans from the incomprehensible tragedy felt by all of you here today.


“Nobody’s political career is more important than protecting the American people. Who among us is of such value that we would not say, ‘I’ll take a risk, so that our kids don’t have to take a risk and be in danger?’ So, I think there’s reason to be hopeful, because of Mr. Thompson’s work in the House getting all those co-sponsors. All we need is 20, 30 more, and there are at least 30 more who would vote for it.

“So, what we want is to get people to sign on, or at least say they will support the bill, and to urge the leadership of the House to take up the bill. I believe if the bill were taken up in the House that it would pass, and when it passes the House, some Senators – well-intentioned – would no longer have the excuse: ‘It’s no use my risking my political career because it’s not going any place in the House.’ Let’s prove it. Let’s turn that around. Pass it in the House. Just put the pressure on to take up the bill. Why not? Why not? When 90 percent of the American people want us to finish the job?”

Thompson issued a statement after the news conference. “If this bill is passed, criminals, terrorists, domestic abusers and other prohibited purchasers wouldn’t be able to bypass a background check by simply buying a gun online, through a classified ad or at a gun show,” he said. “This bill will save lives and respects the Second Amendment. It deserves a vote. And, it deserves to be signed into law.”