This week, the House Judiciary Committee held its first hearing in over eight years on any kind of gun legislation. In that intervening period, names like Newtown, San Bernardino, Orlando, Las Vegas, and Parkland have been seared into our collective consciousness.
However, the hearings this week focused only on HR 8, a piece of legislation that would institute universal background checks. We learn in this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast with Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), the chairman of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, that while this particular legislation may have a chance of becoming law, it seems to be the beginning and the end of what’s possible.
In response to questions about legislation banning assault weapons and bump stocks, the congressman feels the chances for passage are slight, at best. Although a lot of gun-control bills may be proposed in the coming year, and there may be public support for many of them, this week’s podcast makes clear that very little beyond background checks can be expected to become law.
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|Jeff Schechtman:||Thank you for joining us here at Radio WhoWhatWhy. I’m Jeff Schechtman. Since the Congress last held hearings on any kind of gun legislation, over eight years ago, places like Newtown, Orlando, Las Vegas, San Bernardino, and Parkland have been seared into our collective consciousness. This week, all that changed as the House Judiciary Committee began hearings on H.R.8, an effort to put in place the universal background checks that an overwhelming majority of Americans support.|
|This might just be the beginning, as other members of Congress are getting ready to push for reinstatement of the assault weapons ban, which is also supported by a majority of Americans. Will any of this result in anything other than headlines and the kind of showboating that we saw Wednesday from a Republican Congressman from Florida. To try and put all of this in perspective, I’m joined by California Congressman Mike Thompson, who chairs the Congress’s Gun Violence Prevention Task Force. Mike, thanks for joining us here on Radio WhoWhatWhy.|
|Mike Thompson:||Jeff, as always, a pleasure, thank you.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||It’s great to have you here. Was there a sense of that hearing this week being historic, that it has been so long since even the subject of gun violence has been discussed in a formal way in the halls of Congress?|
|Mike Thompson:||Well, as you noted, I’ve been the chair of this task force for over six years and, ever since Sandy Hook, have been trying to expand background checks, so we can do everything possible to make sure that people who shouldn’t have guns, — criminals, or people who are dangerously mentally ill, folks who are a danger to themselves or others — don’t get their hands on guns. For six years, we’ve had nothing but no from the, then majority in the House, the Republican majority in the House.|
|This last election, it signaled a new day. Every member of Congress that won seats in these tough elections, talked to some extent about gun violence prevention in their campaigns. They came here with the understanding that they wanted to do something to make their communities safer. We’ve had a lot of pent-up energy and determination to expand background checks. Yesterday, we finally had what we’ve been waiting years for, and that was a hearing on the subject of background checks before somebody buys a gun. It was a gratifying day.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||Talk a little bit about that hearing. You heard from the police chief, I think it was from Houston, Texas, and…|
|Jeff Schechtman:||… a few others that managed to get their voices in during this hearing.|
|Mike Thompson:||We had a great line-up of witnesses. We heard from law enforcement. We heard from gun violence prevention activists. We heard from a survivor. We heard from a medical doctor, who treats victims of gun violence on a very regular basis, who went into medicine because, when he was a teenager, he was the victim of gun violence. He was shot in the throat, and the bullet went through and lodged in his shoulder. He has … Since becoming a surgeon, he deals with this all the time. It was a very, very impressive group.|
|The hearing room was filled with folks who were either gun violence survivors, the parents of gun violence victims, the brothers and sisters of gun violence victims, husbands and wives of gun violence victims, and a lot of young people, young leaders, who were either at Parkland when it happened, had a friend who was a victim of gun violence, or just students who are just flat scared to go to school and fear that their school is going to be the next one.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||Of course, we’re coming up next week on the first anniversary of Parkland. To what extent is that kind of an overhang to all of this right now?|
|Mike Thompson:||Well, I think that Parkland was a real turning point in all of this. I’m not sure why Parkland was different. Clearly, Sandy Hook was just a horrific tragedy, but Parkland was different, because they were teenage kids who were murdered, and their colleagues, their classmates, just took to the streets. They made sure that they weren’t going to … This wasn’t going to be overlooked, swept under the carpet, and addressed with thoughts and prayers. They wanted action. They got involved. Parkland has really made a difference, as had all of the voices across the country, who have said, “It’s time that we do something. Enough of this thoughts and prayers. We want action.”|
|Jeff Schechtman:||The hearing took place before the Judiciary Committee. Talk a little bit about your group, the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, the group that you had, what its mission is in Congress.|
|Mike Thompson:||Well, we started right after Sandy Hook, evaluating all proposals dealing with gun violence prevention. We heard from every imaginable group. We heard from people who thought we shouldn’t have any laws governing firearm ownership to people who thought we should have real strict laws governing firearm ownership. All of the experts tell us, and testified before our task force, that the one thing that you can do that is clearly constitutional, is not even offensive in regard to Second Amendment issues, something that we could pass quickly, would have the most impact in reducing gun violence, is expansion of background checks. In addition to that, it has overwhelming public support, that 93% or 95% of the American people support expanding background checks.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||One of the other things that goes along with that, and some states are doing this, is this whole issue of red flag warnings. Talk a little bit about what that is and whether that is incorporated into this whole discussion of background checks.|
|Mike Thompson:||Well, everything’s being talked about. The background check bill is a one-issue bill, that’s to expand background checks. We want to make sure that that gets through the House within the first hundred days, goes over to the Senate, so we can turn all these voices for change onto the Senate side and build the momentum necessary to get a background check bill passed.|
|The so-called red flag warning bills … A lot of states have done it already. There’s talk about doing it from the national level. That’s a process whereby someone can call in and identify somebody who may be a danger to themselves or to others. Law enforcement can respond, evaluate the situation, and temporarily remove firearms from that individual. It’s been wildly successful, where it’s currently the law.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||There’s been a lot of reporting over the past few days, as these hearings have gotten underway, that there’s an awful lot of pressure among, particularly among, some of the newer members of Congress, for revitalizing the assault weapons ban. Talk about that and where you … what chance you think that might have, and how it fits into this larger framework.|
|Mike Thompson:||Well, as I said, the mission right now is to focus attention on the one piece of legislation that will do the most to protect folks here in our communities, and that’s expansion of the background checks. This is a standalone bill. It’s a single subject bill. It only deals with background checks. I’m sure there’s going to be a million other bills introduced that have some claim to being able to reduce gun violence in our streets and neighborhoods, but we’re focusing on the background checks, so most efficient, most effective, and the quickest thing we can do, and we know it saves lives.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||What is your sense of the chances of this not just getting through the House, but really getting through the Senate, as well, and being signed by the President?|
|Mike Thompson:||Well, as you know, Abraham Lincoln said, “You can do anything if you have the will of the people, and without the will of the people you can do nothing.” I think it’s pretty evident that we have the will of the people on our side. As I said earlier, our mission is to get it over to the Senate with a good, strong vote, bipartisan good, strong vote, and then make sure that all of the voices who have been so critical to our success up to this point focus on the Senate, let their Senators know that this is something that they want to do, and that they want it done quickly. I suspect, if enough Senators hear from enough constituents, Mitch McConnell … It’ll be real clear to him that it’s time to take up the issue of expansion of background checks.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||If this issue of background checks and this piece of legislation does pass, somehow manage to get through this process, is that the end of it? Or do you see this process continuing with legislation that also might have a chance at this point, or is that going to be as far as, really, Congress is going to allow this to go?|
|Mike Thompson:||Oh, I think there’s always going to be an effort to make our communities safer. I don’t think you pass one piece of legislation, then stop. As you know, you and I could sit down and write the perfect bill to deal with you-fill-in-the-blank problem, and before the ink’s dry on that bill, there needs to be some changes. As you know, you don’t solve problems with legislation. You address problems. It’s an ongoing thing, just like it is with health care or infrastructure or the tax code or anything else.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||Mm-hmm (affirmative). Talk a little bit about the mood now that all of this is beginning to take on some real life, some shape, and not only the gun legislation but other efforts, other legislation in Washington that has been stalled for so long.|
|Mike Thompson:||Oh, I think people, at least on my side of the aisle, are very excited. When you look at gun violence prevention, you can really, really notice a difference in the people whose lives have been affected by gun violence. I participated in a press conference today with victims and survivors of gun violence, and they were just so much happier than they have been in the past six years, because they see their Congress starting to respond to an issue that’s very, very important to them.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||Talk a little bit about the hearing that took place earlier this week, and the showboating that went on from a Republican Congressman from Florida, who really tried to distract from the issues that were at hand.|
|Mike Thompson:||Well, it was even worse than that, Jeff. It was a very shameful act on his part. He was rude and disrespectful to the families that were in the hearing room, the families of gun violence victims. He tried to turn it into a hearing on immigration. The hearing was on gun violence, and specifically the expansion of background checks. What he did was one of the most idiotic things that I’ve ever seen since I’ve been here. It’s just really shameful.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||What do you see as the timeframe on this piece of legislation we’ve been talking about?|
|Mike Thompson:||Well, next week, on the 13th, the Committee’s going to do a markup on the bill, and that’s the committee process whereby they evaluate possible amendments. I was told by the Chairman that they would vote it out, vote it to the floor, on the 13th. So it’ll be out next week, eligible to go on the floor for a vote at any time. And as I’ve said all along, we’ll have a bill passed by the House within the first 100 days of this Congress.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||Congressman Mike Thompson … He’s the Chairman of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force. I thank you so much for sharing some time with us today.|
|Mike Thompson:||Jeff, it’s my pleasure, always good to talk to you.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||Thank you. And thank you for listening and for joining us here on Radio WhoWhatWhy. I hope you join us next week for another Radio WhoWhatWhy podcast. I’m Jeff Schechtman. If you like this podcast, please feel free to share and help others find it, by rating and reviewing it on iTunes. You can also support this podcast and all the work we do by going to whowhatwhy.org/donate.|
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