House approves gun control bill to boost background check funding

Dan Egar helps a customer shop for a handgun on February 13, 2014 in Tinley Park, Illinois.
Dan Egar helps a customer shop for a handgun on Feb. 13, 2014 in Tinley Park, Illinois.

In a small sign of bipartisanship in the wake of the Isla Vista, Calif. shooting rampage that killed six people last week, moderate Republicans joined House Democrats Thursday night in passing an amendment to boost funding for the criminal background checks system.

The amendment, which passed in a floor vote by 260 to 145, was attached to a 2015 appropriations bill by California Rep. Mike Thompson, a Democrat, along with three Republican co-sponsors -- Reps. Peter King (R-N.Y.), Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), and Joe Heck (R-Nev.) -- and Democratic Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.).

The full bill will receive a House vote on Friday, and is expected to pass. The Senate will then likely consider its own version of the appropriations bill before conferencing with the House to produce a final piece of legislation later this year.

If signed into law, the amendment would increase funding for the criminal background checks system by $19.5 million -- raising the total funding level for the program to $78 million -- to help ensure states have the necessary resources to submit additional records of prohibited firearm purchasers to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The House vote represents a major breakthrough for Congress, whose last attempt at gun control legislation -- following the 2012 shooting in Newtown, Connecticut -- failed in the Senate last April.

But gun-reform groups want to see a larger federal effort.

"It will help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people and make us all safer, but we need to do more," Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said in a statement Thursday night. "Congress needs to listen to the American public and expand federal background checks to include guns sold online and at gun shows so that any improvement to the background check system applies to all commercial gun sales."

At the state level, in California, legislators are attempting to pass a gun bill that would allow law enforcement officials and the general American public to appeal to a judge for the temporary removal of firearms from an individual they view as a threat to public safety. Legislators introduced the measure less than a week after the California shooting.

California ranked first in the country in enacting some of the strongest gun laws last year, according to the 2013 State Gun Laws Scorecard. In 2010, the Golden State had the ninth lowest number of gun deaths per capita in the United States, according to the most recent data from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

During his commencement address Thursday at Harvard University, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that Democrats and Republicans decide every major question facing the country not by engaging with one another, but by trying to overcome each other and undermine the research that counters their ideology. For a decade, he said, Congress has prevented the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from conducting studies of gun violence, and recently placed the prohibition on the National Institute of Health.

"You have to ask yourself: 'What are they afraid of?'" he said. "Let's get serious."