Democrats frustrated with the Senate’s refusal to pass universal gun background checks are getting help from former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a gun violence survivor herself.
The Arizona Democrat is set to send a letter Thursday to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) calling on him to bring gun legislation to a vote and detailing the consequences of persistent gun violence in the U.S., particularly since the House passed a universal background checks bill earlier this year.
“In the eight years since I was shot, I’ve met thousands of people whose lives have been forever changed by gun violence. Scars. Trauma. Loved ones lost. … The heartbreaking reality is that so many of these tragedies could have been prevented,” Giffords wrote in a copy of her letter that HuffPost obtained earlier this week.
“Speaking is difficult for me, but I am writing to say, as loudly as I can: bring H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act … up for a vote without delay,” she continued.
Giffords, who is a gun owner, and her astronaut husband Mark Kelly have become leading advocates for gun control policy and reform since she survived a mass shooting in 2011 in Tucson, Arizona. Giffords launched a national gun violence prevention group in her name, and Kelly announced his own 2020 Senate run against Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) this year.
On the eighth anniversary of Giffords being shot, House Democrats unveiled their bill, which would require federal background checks for nearly all firearm transactions, including private sales. The bill introduced in honor of Giffords passed on Feb. 27 with a 240-190 vote that included eight Republicans, making it the most significant piece of gun reform legislation to pass in decades.
The measure has since stalled in the GOP-controlled Senate, with McConnell refusing to commit to bringing the bill up for a vote. The National Rifle Association has vehemently denounced the bill and it is unlikely that enough Senate Republicans will help take it to a final vote.
Currently, only licensed firearm dealers are required to perform background checks, while unlicensed dealers, like those at gun shows or online, can sell firearms without going through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). A poll conducted by Quinnipiac University at the end of 2017 showed that 97% of respondents supported background checks for all gun buyers, including 97% of gun owners and 97% of Republican respondents.
McConnell has also refused to allow votes on any other Democratic bills that passed in the House, including legislation on equal pay, lower prescription drug prices and additional protections for preexisting health conditions. The stonewalling has left many Democrat fuming, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who said that McConnell has turned the chamber into a “legislative graveyard.”
“Gabby Giffords unfortunately understands all too well how victims, families and communities across the country are devastated by senseless gun violence,” Schumer said in a statement Wednesday to HuffPost. “Unfortunately, instead of bringing this commonsense legislation — supported by more than 90% of Americans — to the Senate floor for considerations, Leader McConnell and his do-nothing Senate have repeatedly refused to take action, sadly playing politics with Americans’ lives.”
On Thursday afternoon, Giffords and other gun violence prevention advocates will join Schumer, Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and Reps. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and Lucy McBath (D-Ga.) in front of the Capitol to call on the Senate to pass universal gun background checks.
Gun safety groups have said that expanding the NICS, which was established in 1994 under the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, is overdue. Since then, background checks have blocked an estimated 3 million illegal gun purchases, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Researchers in 2017 said that an estimated 22% of gun transfers do not involve a background check.
“Every moment we don’t act puts more lives at stake, more Americans at risk. Places that should be safe ― our schools, our workplaces, our synagogues, mosques, churches, temples ― feel like they’re under attack,” Giffords said in her letter to McConnell, citing 19 shootings that took place just this past weekend in Philadelphia. “This must change, and you have the power to change it.”