The central goal for the gun control movement following the Newtown shooting — expanded background checks for firearms purchases — is within reach, even with a divided Congress, the House Democratic leader on gun violence said Monday.
Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), who’s heading up the House Democrats’ task force in the wake of the elementary school shooting said expanded background checks will “eventually” pass Congress, a prospect that should have the gun control community excited.
“I think that as this moves forward, we’re going to find some areas that we can agree on and they’ll be, for lack of a better term, the easier ones. The background checks, the enhanced prosecutions, mental health — we need to do so much more on mental health,” Thompson said at a Center For American Progress forum on gun violence, held in Washington. “There will be a lot of Republicans who support that.”
He expanded on the remark to reporters after the event.
“Eventually, a bill to strengthen background checks will pass,” he said. “It’s a great first step.” Thompson said the expanded background checks should be sold as “keeping guns away from criminals,” a strategy favored by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who also spoke at the CAP meeting.
“If you can do that through enhanced background checks, and have the additional benefit of folks who have mental problems that would preclude them from owning firearms, you’ve done a lot,” he said. “You’ve accomplished quite a bit.”
Advocates for expanded regulations on firearms have made universal background checks — including closing the so-called “gun show loophole” — their central focus. The National Rifle Association has generally opposed the idea expanded background checks, saying they would make it hard for private sales of weapons to continue. The NRA does favor creating a list of people “adjudicated to be mentally incompetent and potentially dangerous,” in the words of NRA president David Keene over the weekend. People on the list would be prevented from buying guns from dealers who require background checks.
Some conservative Republicans have expressed interest in expanding background checks, and Thompson — an avid hunter and gun owner — told TPM after the CAP event that supporting background check expansion would not require Republicans to alienate gun owners, even if it means crossing the gun lobby.
“I think that most NRA members believe that criminals and mentally ill folks shouldn’t have access to firearms,” he said. Thompson referred to his series of town hall meetings held in his northern California district last week to prove his point.
“You can divide the people there into different groups. And the groups that were into 100 percent access to firearms, even those folks agreed that criminals shouldn’t have firearms,” he said.
A reporter pointed out that improved background checks might not have prevented the Newtown shooting, which was committed with firearms legally purchased by the suspect’s mother. Thompson, who also supports banning the weapon used in the Newtown shooting, said the background checks are a necessary part of any gun violence conversation after the elementary school shooting.
“I think if we look at every proposal as to the impact it would have on a particular incident, I think we’re doomed to failure,” he said. “You have to remember that we’ve had probably a thousand people killed by guns since Newtown. This is not focused on one particular issue.”