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Thompson renews call for background-check bill

Echoing calls from President Barack Obama, Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton and many others in the wake of last week’s racist-terrorism massacre in Charleston, S.C., Rep. Mike Thompson today urged House GOP leaders to bring his bipartisan background-check bill to a vote.

Thompson, D-St. Helena, is an avid hunter and combat veteran who was tapped to be House Democrats’ point man on gun-control issues soon after the December 2012 schoolhouse massacre in Newtown, Conn. His H.R. 1217, co-authored by Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., would expand the existing background check system to cover all commercial firearm sales, including those at gun shows, over the internet or in classified ads.

“Mr. Speaker, last week we witnessed an act of pure hatred and evil in Charleston, S.C.

“This is a time to mourn the victims, to pray for their families, for a community to heal, and for Congress to take action against unchecked and widespread gun violence.

“30-plus people are killed every day by someone using a gun. Mass shootings are becoming almost commonplace. And yet we continue to do nothing.

“No legislation will stop every tragedy. But passing commonsense gun laws will at least stop some.

“We need to pass background checks. It’s our first line of defense against criminals & the dangerously mentally ill getting guns.

“We don’t know what laws could have prevented the shooting in Charleston.

“But we do know that background checks stop help keep guns from dangerous people – and that saves lives.

“If the Republican leadership has a better idea to cut down on gun violence, let’s see it.

“If not, let’s bring commonsense, bipartisan reforms like my bill to expanded criminal background checks up for a vote.”

A Quinnipiac University poll conducted one year ago found 92 percent of Americans – and 92 percent of gun owners – support requiring background checks for all gun buyers. A Public Policy Polling survey conducted this past weekend found 90 percent support.

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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

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Lawmakers remember Newtown in varied ways

Tomorrow marks one year since the Newtown school shooting massacre, and as the nation considers what has and hasn’t happened as a result, Bay Area lawmakers are observing the awful anniversary in various ways.

Nancy PelosiHouse Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, will speak at a Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America event Saturday morning at St. Vincent de Paul Church in San Francisco. She’ll be joined there by families of victims of gun violence.

“It’s hard to believe that an entire year has passed since that horrific day – yet it’s even harder to believe that, despite so many promises of action, too many in Congress have advocated only inaction in the fight to prevent gun violence,” Pelosi said Friday. “In the wake this solemn anniversary, that must change. Indeed, our most lasting memorial to the victims of Newtown would be to enact a comprehensive agenda to prevent gun violence, starting with the bipartisan, King-Thompson legislation to expand background checks.”

Rep. Mike Thompson – co-author of that background-check bill and Pelosi’s appointed point man on gun violence issues – joined congresswomen Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn.; Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.; and Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-DC, in an “act of kindness” Friday to mark the anniversary.

Mike ThompsonOfficials in Newtown have urged those who wish to honor the memory of the victims to engage in acts of kindness, and so the four House members helped prepare meals at Martha’s Table, a Washington, D.C, nonprofit that provides healthy meals and education rpograms to nearly 300 children, plus meals and groceries to hundreds of homeless and low-income people.

Thompson, D-Napa, and H.R. 1565 co-author Pete King, R-N.Y., issued a statement Friday noting that in the year since Newtown “more than 10,000 people have been killed by someone using a gun and Congress has done nothing to reduce gun violence. That is unacceptable.

“Congress needs to act, and we should start by passing our bipartisan background check bill so that criminals, terrorists, domestic abusers and the dangerously mentally ill do not have easy access to guns,” the lawmakers wrote. “187 of our colleagues have co-authored this legislation and more have said they’d vote for it if the bill was brought to the floor. It’s time to get this bill passed and signed into law.”

honda.jpgAnd Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, will speak Saturday at a gun buyback event at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in San Jose, organized by a coalition of South Bay civic organizations. People will be able to anonymously exchange handguns for up to $200 in gift cards; Assemblywoman Nora Campos, San Jose Police Chief Larry Esquivel, City Councilman Xavier Campos, Santa Clara District Attorney Jeff Rosen, and Father Jon Pedigo of Our Lady of Guadalupe also are scheduled to speak.

Honda on Friday called the buyback “a concrete step to get as many dangerous weapons off the streets at possible.”

“It has been one year since the tragic events at Newtown, and we will always remember those who are no longer with us. It is important to not only protect young children, however, but all of our citizens, and I will continue to fight for real change to our gun laws,” Honda said Friday, saying he has worked to increase funding for background checks and tried to block efforts to make it harder for police to track criminals using illegal guns. “Reducing needless gun violence is one of the key moral causes of our time.”

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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.

[snip]

“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.”

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>100 cosponsors for House background-check bill

More than 100 House members from both sides of the aisle have signed on to co-sponsor a bill that would require background checks for all commercial gun sales.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, chairman of the House Democrats’ gun-violence task force, and Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., introduced H.R. 1565 on April 15, two days before the Senate rejected the identical Manchin-Toomey amendment.

“We won’t take ‘no’ for an answer when it comes to passing commonsense laws that keep guns from criminals, terrorist and the dangerously mentally ill,” Thompson and King said in a news release today. “This debate isn’t over. The American people deserve for this bill to be signed into law.”

The bill would expand the existing background check system to cover all commercial firearm sales, including those at gun shows, over the internet or in classified ads; it would not cover private, person-to-person sales, as California’s law does.

This widening of background checks is tempered by several nods to those concerned about Second Amendment rights: The bill 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 lets gun owners use a state concealed-carry permit issued within the last five years in lieu of a background check, and allows interstate handgun sales from licensed dealers.

And it improves the National Instant Criminal Background Check System by offering incentives to states to improve reporting of criminals and the dangerously mentally ill and by directing future grants toward better record-sharing systems; federal funds would be reduced to states that don’t comply.

The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary and Veterans’ Affairs committees.

The King-Thompson bill’s original co-authors are Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa.; Pat Meehan, R-Pa.; Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y.; and Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.

From the greater Bay Area, co-sponsors include Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz; John Garamendi, D-Fairfield; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco; Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo; and Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton.

The locals who haven’t signed on are Reps. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; and George Miller, D-Martinez. I’ve reached out to their offices to find out where they stand on the bill, and will update this item accordingly.

UPDATE @ 1 P.M. TUESDAY 5/7: McNerney and Miller both have signed on.

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Local Dems weigh in domestic terror hearing

Bay Area members of Congress are speaking out against what they see as bias in today’s House Homeland Community Committee hearing on “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response.”

Reps. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, and John Dingell, D-Mich., led 55 of their colleagues in sending a letter to committee chairman Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., to refocus the upcoming hearings on Muslim Americans and homegrown terrorism in order to examine all forms of violence motivated by any sort of extremism.

Congress and the government do have a duty to protect America from foreign or domestic terrorism, they agreed, but they’re concerned that King’s hearing’s “narrow scope and underlying premises” will unfairly stigmatize and alienate Muslim Americans.

“We believe that the tone and focus of these hearings runs contrary to our nation’s values,” the lawmakers wrote. “Muslim Americans contribute to our nation’s wellbeing in many professions including as doctors, engineers, lawyers, firefighters, business entrepreneurs, teachers, police officers and Members of Congress. Their hard work helps to make our country exceptional.”

“Furthermore, casting a negative light on an entire community— rather than focusing on actual dangerous fringes will only strain community relationships and trust that local, state and federal law enforcement agencies have worked hard to develop,” they continued. “Muslim Americans are an integral part of our larger American society and should be treated as such, not viewed with suspicion.”

“The choice between our values of inclusiveness and pluralism and our security is a false one.”

Among those signing the letter were Reps. George Miller, D-Martinez; Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; and Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, posted a similar sentiment to her Facebook page this morning.

“Today’s Homeland Security Committee hearing, which will profile and demonize an entire community of people based on their faith, undermines the values we stand for as Americans,” Speier wrote. “Radicalization and homegrown terrorism are serious and legitimate concerns that deserve thoughtful examination, not an ideologically motivated charade.”