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Democratic Senator Chris Murphy introduces universal background check law

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut is reintroducing legislation Tuesday that would require universal background checks on the sale or transfer of all firearms. Universal background checks are largely supported by Americans but have not gained traction in Congress.

Murphy's bill, the Background Check Expansion Act, would extend a background check requirement to unlicensed and private firearm sellers before selling a firearm. Current federal law doesn't require unlicensed sellers to do background checks before transferring firearms.

Polling from gun reform advocacy groups Everytown for Gun Safety and Giffords finds 93% of Americans support a background check requirement for all gun sales. In 2019, the House passed a comprehensive background check bill, but it died in the Republican-controlled Senate. Democratic Congressman Mike Thompson of California will introduce the House version of the Senate bill on Tuesday.

Democrats hoping to pass gun safety laws have a champion in the White House, and President Joe Biden last month called on Congress to pass gun control legislation, including background checks. However, the legislation still requires 10 Republican senators to vote with Democrats to advance the bill, a significant obstacle to passage. 

Senator Richard Blumenthal, who is cosponsoring the legislation, is hopeful that this time may be different.

"My conversation with Republicans indicated they get it," he told reporters Tuesday. "The American people are responding to a political movement that has resulted from Parkland, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas — the shorthand of tragedies that have caused this political movement to be a force that has met this moment of reckoning."

While he conceded that short of a bill, Mr. Biden could take executive action, Blumenthal noted, "Ultimately legislation is necessary because executive orders are limited in their reach and their permanency is reliable only as long as that president is in power."

Murphy earlier declared in a statement that Democrats have an opportunity to enact legislative change because they control the Senate, House and the White House.

"Joe Biden and hundreds of congressional candidates from both parties ran on the issue of background checks," Murphy said in a statement. "This is the year to get this bill passed into law."

For now, Mr. Biden's first priority is passing his COVID-19 economic stimulus package aimed at helping Americans and businesses that have been struggling with the pandemic for a year. The House passed the bill in a razor-thin 219-217 vote early Saturday morning, and Democrats need every one of their senators to vote "yes" to ensure its passage. Negotiations are still underway, but it appears unlikely to win any Republican support.

After its narrow but expected passage, the president will move on to the next item on his legislative agenda, but exactly what that is remains to be seen. As a presidential candidate, Mr. Biden advocated for gun safety and his ability to fight the National Rifle Association (NRA), which opposes most efforts to expand gun control.

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