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Parkland shooting to be commemorated with new bill requiring background checks on gun sales

The bill would require gun sellers to conduct background checks on buyers

"There's nothing statistically that supports that," Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., said to the claim by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., that undocumented immigrants are to blame for gun violence in the U.S. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
"There's nothing statistically that supports that," Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., said to the claim by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., that undocumented immigrants are to blame for gun violence in the U.S. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Flanked by the parents of children killed or disabled by guns, including the parents of children slain in the Parkland shooting one year ago, Rep. Jerry Nadler announced Thursday he would advance a bill to require background checks on gun sales next week.

Nadler chairs the Judiciary Committee, which has broad jurisdiction over firearm regulations. The New York Democrat announced the committee will advance the Bipartisan Background Checks Act on Wednesday, Feb. 13th. The next day, February 14th, marks the anniversary of a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which claimed 17 lives.

“We will stop the epidemic of gun violence in this country,” Nadler said.

The bill would require gun sellers, including private vendors, to conduct background checks on buyers. Democratic leaders introduced the bill as H.R. 8 — a low number reflects that it’s a high priority.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., who along with Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., has pushed Congress to pass a bill requiring background checks since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

On Thursday he cheered the advancement of H.R. 8.

“Over the last six years I’ve been to a number of press conferences on this issue, but this is my favorite press conference,” Thompson said.

The latest progress on the bill follows a marathon hearing on gun violence the committee held Wednesday — the first such hearing the chamber has held since 2011.

In the eight intervening years, a drumbeat of mass shootings has gripped national headlines including the tragedy in Parkland, in Las Vegas at a music festival in 2017 and in Orlando at an LGBTQ nightclub in 2016.

A Republican member of the committee, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, momentarily derailed the hearing Wednesday.

Gaetz devoted his time on the panel to voice a false theory that gun violence can be attributed to immigrants crossing the southern border, and was interrupted by the father of a slain Parkland student.

Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga. — elected in 2018 in a historically conservative district while campaigning on gun safety, and whose teenage son Jordan Davis was shot and killed by a white man who thought Davis was playing rap music too loudly in 2012 — dismissed that claim as unfounded demagoguery.

“We don’t want to start making generalizations and demagogue other people as being the authors of the extremist gun culture that we have,” McBath said in an interview. “There’s nothing statistically that supports that.”

Thomas Hoyer, whose 15-year-old son was shot and killed in the Parkland shooting, referred to Gaetz’s line of questioning as an “antic.”

“It frustrates us to see people who interject other issues, almost in a purposeful way to distract from the issue of gun violence,” said Hoyer, who serves as treasurer of Stand with Parkland. The small advocacy group is comprised of 17 families who lost loved ones in last year’s tragedy.

Because anniversaries can be a difficult time for people grieving, the families with Stand with Parkland are in Washington, D.C., this week pushing for change. But on the shooting’s Feb. 14th anniversary, they will be home with their families.

At the press conference Thursday, advocates for gun safety with the organizations Everytown for Gun Safety, Moms Demand Action and Stand with Parkland made urgent, sometimes tearful pleas for a solution to gun violence.

Deandra Dycus’ 13-year-old son, DeAndre, was struck by a stray bullet in 2014. He receives around-the-clock care in a rehabilitation facility because he lost his ability to walk or talk, leading to steep medical bills.

“The financial cost of surviving gun violence is coupled with psychological impact of losing DeAndre,” she said.

The lawmakers repeatedly praised the advocates, referred to the law as a “common sense” measure and stressed its bipartisan backing. 

But while the public widely backs background checks on private gun sales and gun show purchases — 79 percent of Republicans support them, according to the Pew Research Center — just five Republicans in the House have signed on as cosponsors. It is a reflection of the enduring power of the National Rifle Association.

The five Republicans that signed onto the bill are the five original Republican co-sponsors of the bill: Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., Peter T. King, R-N.Y., Brian Mast, R-Fla., Christopher H. Smith, R-N.J. and Fred Upton, R-Mich.

“This is probably the most common sense legislation we’ll vote on in the 116th Congress,” Fitzpatrick said.

Advocates say they want results, not a pileup of legislation that is dead-on-arrival in the Senate. They have prioritized background checks as a narrow and popular measure with the potential to win support from Republicans.

Stand with Parkland has lobbied Sens. Rick Scott of Florida, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin this week.

Griffin Connolly contributed to this report.Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified the Senator who met with Stand with Parkland. The group met with Sen. Rick Scott of Florida.