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Originally published Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 6:05 AM

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Still waiting for a vote on background checks

The House majority should be brave to vote on my background checks bill, writes U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif.

Special to The Sacramento Bee

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On Dec. 14, 2012, I was duck hunting in California when my phone buzzed with a news alert. There had been a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. As the hours unfolded, we learned 20 children and six adults had been gunned down in a senseless act of violence.

In the weeks that followed, we pledged to never forget. We said that something must be done.

It has been a year. More than 10,000 people have been killed by someone using a gun. In the U.S. House, the majority party hasn’t allowed a single vote to prevent further acts of gun violence.

There is a bill on which to vote. I introduced bipartisan legislation expanding comprehensive and enforceable criminal background checks to cover commercial firearm sales such as those at gun shows and over the Internet. It is the same legislation authored by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and supported by a bipartisan majority in the Senate.

Sixteen states already require criminal background checks at gun shows and for Internet sales. However, the 34 other states only require checks for purchases made through a licensed gun dealer. That means criminals in California can drive across the state line and load up with guns at a gun show.

If my bill passed, criminals, terrorists, abusers, the dangerously mentally ill and other prohibited purchasers wouldn’t be able to bypass a background check.

People on all sides of the gun violence prevention issue say their goal is to keep guns out of dangerous hands. But you cannot without background checks. Checks are the only way of knowing if a person buying a gun is a criminal, a terrorist or dangerously mentally ill.

Background checks work when they are used. Nationally last year, checks identified and denied 88,000 sales to prohibited purchasers at licensed dealers.

However, there is no way of knowing if those 88,000 prohibited purchasers, after being denied at a licensed dealer, then bought a gun at a gun show or over the Internet with no questions asked. This huge loophole costs lives.

You don’t have to look any further than the sister of Elvin Daniel to see this is true. His sister Zina had a restraining order against her husband that prevented him from passing a background check. Nevertheless, he went online and bought a .40-caliber semi-automatic handgun. He killed Zina and two others in Wisconsin.

The House majority has refused to allow a vote on my legislation to close this loophole. While 90 percent of Americans support checks, politicians fear a vote in favor of my legislation would upset their extreme-right base and cause political backlash.

Critics of the bill argue it’s unnecessary because criminals will never submit to a check. Under my bill, if a criminal tries to buy a gun online or at a gun show and is unwilling, they will not get a gun. This drastically reduces the number of places criminals can easily access guns.

Critics have called my bill anti-Second Amendment. I am a gun owner and support the rights of lawful Americans to own firearms.

My bill is pro-Second Amendment. It provides reasonable exceptions so people won’t have to get a background check if they inherit a family rifle, borrow a shotgun for a hunting trip, or purchase a gun from a friend. It bans the creation of a federal registry. And it authorizes the use of a recent state concealed carry permit in lieu of a background check.

There are 187 members of Congress who have co-sponsored my background checks bill. More say they will vote for it.

Why isn’t every member of Congress a co-sponsor of an anti-criminal, pro-Second Amendment bill that strengthens gun rights and saves lives? Those are questions every constituent should ask their representative in Congress.

Shortly after hearing of the tragic news out of Newtown, we learned about the heroism of a teacher named Victoria Soto. She hid her students in a closet and put her body in between them and the gunman. She was killed, but saved all of the kids in her classroom.

At 27 she was brave enough to give her life. The House majority should be brave enough to give her a vote.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson represents California’s 5th Congressional District. He wrote this for The Sacramento Bee.

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