Chairman Nadler Opening Statement for the Markup of H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019

Feb 13, 2019 Issues: Gun Control

Washington, D.C. – Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening statement for the markup of H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019:

“Today, the Judiciary Committee considers H.R. 8, the ‘Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019.’  This is long-overdue legislation that will help address our national crisis of gun violence.

“As I noted one week ago, when the Committee held our hearing entitled, ‘Preventing Gun Violence: A Call to Action,’ nearly 40,000 Americans lost their lives because of guns in 2017.  In fact, every day in America, on average, 34 people are murdered with a firearm, and more than 183 people are injured in an attack.

“This is a distinctly American problem.  By comparison, in 2011, the United Kingdom had only 146 deaths due to gun violence; in Denmark: 71; Portugal: 142; and Japan: just 30.  But last year, in the United States?  Almost 40,000.

“We know the reason for this stark difference between our country and the rest of the industrialized world.  The common factor in all of these other countries is that they have stronger gun laws.  In fact, when Australia tightened its gun laws a few years ago, we saw both suicide rates and homicide rates plummet.  Our country, however, is awash in guns, and we have the shameful death toll to show for it.

“As several of our witnesses in last week’s hearing testified repeatedly, one of the most important things we can do to address this epidemic of gun violence is to enact universal background checks.  Under current law, only licensed firearms dealers are required to conduct a background check before transferring a gun to another person.  This means that gun shows, online sales, and other private sales, can completely evade this vital tool for ensuring that guns do not get into the wrong hands.

“According to one study, 22 percent of gun owners in the U.S. acquired their most recent firearm without a background check.  We do not know if they were felons, fugitives, or domestic abusers; we do not know if a court had determined that they were seriously mentally ill.  A huge volume of guns were sold with no questions asked.

“It is time to close this dangerous loophole.

“There is a clear consensus among academics, public health experts, and law enforcement personnel that universal background checks would greatly enhance public safety.  Despite the obvious need to take action, however, Congress, for too long, has done virtually nothing.

“Citizens across the country have been organizing and demanding action, and there is now overwhelming public support for universal background checks—90% according to one survey. 

“I am particularly heartened by the mobilization of so many students and young people, from diverse backgrounds and from every part of our nation, who are now at the forefront of this effort.  They join mothers and fathers in calling on us to do more to create a future in which children do not fear being shot in school, or on their streets. 

“We have heard their voices.  That is why we are considering H.R. 8 today. This bill would make it illegal for any person who is not a licensed firearm importer, manufacturer, or dealer to transfer a firearm to any other person who is not so licensed, without a background check.  Individuals seeking to transfer a firearm under this measure would be required to visit a licensed firearms dealer to run the necessary background check before the transfer could be finalized.

“The bill also provides a number of exemptions to this requirement, including gifts to family members and transfers for hunting, target shooting, and self-defense. 

“The FBI’s internal assessment demonstrated that checks processed through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System are approximately 99.3 percent to 99.8 percent accurate, and in 90 percent of cases, checks are processed within 90 seconds.  H.R. 8 will provide an accurate and speedy mechanism to help ensure firearms do not end up in the wrong hands.

“The bill would, therefore, extend the current federal background check requirement—which applies now only to licensed gun dealers—and require virtually all transactions to undergo a background check.

“There is no reason to continue to make it easy for people who are legally prohibited from possessing firearms to acquire guns.  Just last week, a new report found that, across several states, one in nine people seeking to buy a gun from an unlicensed seller through Armslist.com were legally prohibited from buying or possessing a gun—and would have failed a background check at a licensed gun dealer.

“This bill would close this dangerous loophole.  Evidence shows that universal background checks will save lives.  I urge my colleagues to support H.R. 8 and to support safer streets, safer schools, and safer communities.”

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