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How the House passed the first major gun bill in a generation

The House has passed its first major gun control legislation in decades, as the Democratic majority sends two bills related to background checks for gun buyers on to the Senate. A Republican majority there is unlikely to approve either measure, but their progress to date reflects how Democrats are pushing for gun change in the wake of more mass shootings. Judy Woodruff talks to Lisa Desjardins.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    But first: In a major victory for Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives, two bills that strengthen the background check system for gun sales are now on their way to the Senate.

    It's been over 20 years and significant gun control legislation has cleared the House.

    Lisa Desjardins has been reporting all this. And she joins me now.

    Hello, Lisa.

    So another busy day at the Capitol after yesterday. What would these two measures do?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    All right, one passed yesterday, and one passed tonight.

    Let's look at them very quickly, first the one that passed yesterday. This bill would basically require background checks for almost every gun sale or gun transfer in America. It allows exceptions for family members, hunting, sporting. That includes if you want to go to a shooting range. And also for law enforcement. That wouldn't necessarily require background checks.

    Now, this background — and the background check bill that passed today would allow 20 days total for a background check. That's a big change, Judy, from the current, which is just three days.

    Now, that's considered the Charleston loophole. That is the situation where the massacre in Charleston in which nine churchgoers were killed, that gunman obtained the weapon because the background check didn't come back within those three days. And the gun seller was allowed to sell that gun. Democrats want to raise that limit to 20 days instead.

    No surprise. Republicans have some big problems with these bills. They say that the restrictions go too far. In particular, they say that kind of 20-day window for a background check is too long for victims of domestic violence, women in particular, who may want to get a weapon to protect themselves.

    And that argument was raised on the floor today right before the vote to counter that. A very passionate speech came from Michigan Democrat Debbie Dingell. I want to play some of what she said.

  • Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich.:

    I had to hide in the closet with my siblings, wonder if we — wondering if we would live or die.

    One night, I kept my father from killing my mother. He shouldn't have had a gun. My mother went out and bought a gun. And then all of us were scared to death about her gun and my father's gun. We had two guns to worry about.

    No child, no woman, no man should ever have to go through that.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    She said her father was mentally ill and shouldn't have had access to any gun at all.

    And she — and so that's the argument Democrats have made about that. It was a very powerful speech. And that bill did pass in the House today.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Very powerful.

    And, as we said, Lisa, now, these two measures passing the House, they now go to the Senate, where the last time — if I'm not mistaken, the last time there was an attempt at major expansion of background checks, the Senate voted — this was after the Newtown school massacre, Newtown, Connecticut — failed.

    So what does it look like now?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That was the Manchin-Toomey bill in 2015. It did fail. It was a close vote.

    And now, Judy, actually, it looks like perhaps things are even farther apart on this issue. Even Republicans like Susan Collins, who supported Manchin-Toomey, are lukewarm right now on this bill. They think that maybe it has more restrictions than we have seen in the past.

    They're taking temperatures. There is a chance that something happens in the Senate. And one of the reasons why is guns statistics, frankly. Let's look quickly at where we are with gun deaths in this country. Last year, the number of gun deaths raised — increased to over 39,000.

    The majority of those two-thirds are suicides, of course. But it's notable, Judy, that gun violence in this country is the second leading cause of death — cause of death among our children.

    So here's what's interesting, Judy. When I asked House Democrats who are pushing this legislation, how do you get it through the Senate, they pointed to the children of Parkland, Florida. Of course, they lost 17 people last year in gun violence.

    They said, these kids have been focused on us, the House. Now they're going to pay all their attention on the Senate. They think that will be a relentless effort.

    We will see what happens. They have a steep hill to climb. There are many doubts in the Senate about this legislation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, meanwhile, what are polls saying about the public view on this idea of universal background checks?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    There's a real disconnect here.

    Let's look at what the polls say. The public, 92 percent support the idea of universal background checks. Just 6 percent oppose. Judy, often in these polls, there's a partisan divide, the Republicans one way, Democrats the other. Not on this issue; 89 percent of Republicans support universal background checks.

    So you're seeing something where the public agrees, the Senate doesn't. One issue, though, might be the amount of importance the public places on this. Just 2 percent of Americans think that gun violence is the top issue in this country right now.

    Sadly, that spikes when we see large headlines about gun violence, like after Parkland, Florida. We will see what happens. But, right now, there is agreement, but maybe not momentum from the public.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's so important to follow this.

    Lisa Desjardins, thank you very much.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're welcome.

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