WASHINGTON -- Last month, Democrats in the House of Representatives passed a plan to expand background checks on gun purchases.
Now, Parkland parent Fred Guttenberg and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz are offering a new plan to require universal background checks on ammunition purchases. The bill is named after Guttenberg’s daughter Jaime, one of 17 students and staff killed on Valentine’s Day last year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“We have a gun violence death rate in this country right now of approximately 40,000 per year. It is not normal,” Guttenberg said. “In the time that we do this press conference, somebody will learn they are a victim of gun violence, somebody will be buried who is a victim of gun violence and somebody will be planning the funeral for a victim of gun violence. I am not OK with that.”
The background checks for ammunition would work the same way as background checks for firearms. Every time someone of legal age attempts to purchase ammunition, the buyer would be subject to a background check, which Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy said would take 30 seconds to one minute to complete.
“Even though ammunition is every bit as necessary for the operation of a firearm as the firearm itself, federal law does not require a background check to prevent prohibited purchasers from purchasing ammunition,” Wasserman Schultz said. “Jaime’s Law will close this ammo loophole.”
Guttenberg acknowledged that the bill’s chances of passing the Republican-controlled Senate are low, though he thinks voters in 2020 will punish Senate Republicans who refuse to vote in favor of tighter gun restrictions. As evidence, Guttenberg stood next to freshman California Rep. Mike Levin, who replaced an 18-year Republican incumbent last year.
“We’re going to remind everyone in the Senate about what happened in the House last election,” Guttenberg said. “A lot of people who were wrong on this issue got fired. Put it up for a vote, pass this legislation, or we’ll flip the Senate on this issue.”
Guttenberg and Wasserman Schultz have been working on the legislation for eight months, when Guttenberg asked her what ideas he could pursue that were new and novel, as bills to expand background checks on guns and banning assault weapons were already drafted. He then came up with the background check on ammunition.
“Everyone always said to me on the other side of this, ‘You can’t do anything about gun safety because there’s already too many guns out there and the bad guys, they’re just going to continue to use their guns,’ ” Guttenberg said. “You know what they don’t work without? Ammunition. But there is no requirement for a background check.”
Guttenberg allies, including Parkland Rep. Ted Deutch, Connecticut Sens. Murphy and Richard Blumenthal along with March For Our Lives activists, were present at the bill’s unveiling.
It’s not clear if a group of Republicans who voted to expand background checks on guns last month, including Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, will support Wasserman Schultz’s proposal. Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott have previously said they don’t support bills to expand background checks.
“I don’t know what the implications are, I have to look at it,” Diaz-Balart said when asked if he supports the bill. “Debbie and I have a million disagreements but I respect her as a legislator, so obviously I’ll look at it.”
Diaz-Balart’s vote to expand background checks last month prompted a rebuke from the National Rifle Association, even though the pro-gun organization has donated more campaign cash to him than any other Florida lawmaker in the last two decades. He won reelection last year by 21 percentage points after Guttenberg and others campaigned against him on guns, though he chose to side with Democrats on the issue.
“He’s a lock in that district,” Guttenberg said, adding that Diaz-Balart’s relatively safe political standing shows that he’s truly evolving on the issue, rather than just simply responding to political pressure.
Guttenberg smiled when told that the NRA blasted Diaz-Balart for his vote.
“The NRA is not what they once were,” Guttenberg said.