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Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords on House Passage of Background Checks: “It’s Time to Choose Hope and Courage Over Despair and Fear” 

Recent Giffords report details how historic spikes in gun violence point to the need for universal background checks

Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, founder of the gun safety group Giffords, praised congressional leaders for their dedication to addressing gun violence by passing H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act in the House. H.R. 8’s companion legislation in the Senate, S. 529, the Background Checks Expansion Act,  has yet to be considered. The passage of the House bill comes as communities across the country grapple with the devastation from surges in gun violence. Gun Violence Prevention Task Force Chairman Mike Thompson (D-CA) introduced H.R. 8 with a bipartisan group of gun safety champions, and the Senate version was introduced by Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT). 

Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords: 

“Almost every American will know a victim of gun violence in their lifetime. This doesn’t have to be the case. Today Congress took a courageous step towards ending our country’s gun violence epidemic. I’m proud of my former colleagues and new gun safety champions in the House who said ‘enough’ to inaction. This crisis affects us all, which is why the country is united in demanding action. No matter their background, Americans are forcefully calling for change. 

“Ten years ago, on January 8th, 2011, I nearly lost my life to gun violence. In the years since, I’ve had the privilege of working with activists across the country who have devoted their lives to achieving progress like the passage of this bill. H.R. 8 stands as a symbol of all that our nation has lost to the gun violence epidemic, and all we stand to gain by ending it. We can be a safer, healthier, more just nation. We can protect our children not only in the classroom but also on the streets to and from school, and raise a generation free from the fear of gun violence. It’s time to choose hope and courage over despair and fear.”  

The legislation passed today would require a background check on every gun sale or transfer, with carefully defined exceptions for gifts to family members, and temporary transfers for hunting, target shooting, and self-defense. It would require unlicensed gun sellers to use the same National Instant Criminal Background Checks System (NICS), which is managed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), that licensed dealers use.

As the nation continues to grapple with the harsh realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, communities across the country are suffering from the unabated crisis of gun violence. Uncertainty drove thousands of Americans to gun stores in 2020, with record numbers of first-time buyers bringing firearms into their homes, often without any safety training. The FBI background check system was overwhelmed by the demand, delaying investigations and resulting in potentially hundreds of thousands of people buying firearms without completing a background check. 

During the last congressional session the House of Representatives passed H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, and H.R. 1112, the Enhanced Background Checks Act, but due to inaction by Senator Mitch McConnell, our nation still lacks these foundational gun safety policies—which over 90 percent of Americans support. This time could be different, however. The introduction comes with a new administration in the White House and new leadership in the Senate, providing a window of opportunity for monumental change at the federal level.

“We have an unprecedented opportunity to save lives,” said Peter Ambler, Giffords Executive Director. “For too long, gun violence has brought pain to families in every corner of the country. The American people rose up, defeated the gun lobby, and will no longer settle for excuses or silence. There is no policy that unites the country more than universal background checks. We have a president ready to sign this bill into law. We have a House that demonstrated leadership with quick passage of the legislation. It’s time for the Senate to get this done.” 

Even before the coronavirus, gun violence was a serious crisis in the United States, with about 38,000 people dying from firearms in 2019. This crisis has a disproportionate impact on communities of color, particularly Black communities. Experts attribute this ongoing tragedy to our weak system of national gun laws, which is riddled with loopholes. The biggest of these loopholes concerns the background checks requirement. 

One glaring example of this flaw occurred on August 31, 2019, when a gunman opened fire on multiple locations in Odessa and Midland, Texas, killing seven and injuring at least 25. The shooter had previously failed a background check when trying to purchase a gun after being diagnosed with a mental illness by a clinician. Yet he was still able to bypass the background check system altogether and obtain an AR-style weapon from an unlicensed seller. 

During the past year, the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated public health crises in which guns often play a lethal role, including suicides, domestic violence, and community violence. The lack of a background check requirement as gun sales are surging puts Americans at even greater risk. The impact of the pandemic, along with racial inequity and the Capitol insurrection are explored in our latest report, which details how these deadly trends prove the need for background checks

Giffords Efforts to Pass H.R. 8 and H.R. 1112 in 2019 

H.R. 8 was introduced on January 8th, 2019, which also marked the eighth anniversary of the Tucson shooting. Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords joined Speaker Pelosi and Congressman Thompson for a press conference on Capitol Hill to unveil the legislation. In the weeks after, Giffords publicly advocated for swift passage of the bill. Giffords elevated the voices of Americans demanding action by teaming up with March for Our Lives, Town Hall Project, TOMS, and Levi’s to host a nationwide series of Gun Safety Town Halls rallying support for H.R. 8.

On February 27, 2019, the House passed H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, to require a background check on every gun sale or transfer. A day later they cleared H.R. 1112, the Enhanced Background Checks Act, to provide the FBI additional time to complete background checks and prevent prohibited people from obtaining guns. Then-Leader McConnell blocked the passage of H.R. 8 and H.R. 1112, refusing to bring any proposals from the other chamber up for debate or consideration.


FACT SHEET:The Bipartisan Background Checks Act

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