With the stroke of a pen and a stroll onto the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday, North Coast Congressman Mike Thompson introduced the highest-profile legislation of his political career, believing the newly sworn-in Democratic majority finally will be able to deliver on the promise of requiring universal background checks on all private gun sales.
The St. Helena Democrat and House veteran of 20 years was accompanied in Washington, D.C., for the ceremonial submission of House Bill 8 by former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Arizona, who nearly lost her life in a mass shooting attack in Tucson in 2011.
Tuesday marked eight years since a gunman shot and killed six people and wounded 13 others, including Giffords with a bullet in the head from close range, outside a Safeway supermarket during a public meet-and-greet event.
Since recovering, she and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, have dedicated much of their lives to advocacy work to prevent gun-related deaths.
“Stopping gun violence takes courage — the courage to do what is right, the courage of new ideas,” Giffords said during an afternoon press conference announcing the introduction of Thompson’s expanded legislation to help ensure people only get access to firearms after their backgrounds are vetted. “I’ve seen great courage when my life was on the line. Now is the time to come together, be responsible — Democrats, Republicans, everyone. We must never stop fighting.”
Not one year after the tragedy in Tucson, a 20-year-old gunman stormed Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, killing 20 young children and six adults. Thompson, a Vietnam War veteran and recipient of the Purple Heart after being wounded while serving, has been working to gain traction on enhanced gun legislation ever since that 2012 tragedy.
The latest call for background checks on all gun sales, including for the first time at gun shows, over the internet and in classified ads, is Thompson’s fourth try at getting a gun safety bill to reach the House floor for a vote. The new Democratic majority and Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, again in the key decision-making position as House speaker should allow that to happen.
“For the last six years, there was Republican control of the House, and they would not even have a hearing on the issue of gun violence prevention, let alone on the bill,” Thompson said in an interview Tuesday. “This is a new day. Every day that goes by potentially loses more lives and the whole idea is to save lives.”
His previous attempts at a law weren’t as ambitious, he said, because the congressional appetite hadn’t yet fully formed. Thompson, chairman of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force and lifelong hunter, said he needed to remain practical. Through “a natural progression,” however, he now thinks he’s garnered the necessary support across the aisle to pass the bill onto the Senate, namely as the pendulum has swung further forward with each subsequent mass shooting — Aurora, Orlando, Las Vegas and Parkland, to name a few.
“The fact of the matter is the population across the country is fired up on this,” Thompson said. “Young student leaders from one end to the other, they’re engaged and demanding that some action happen. The American people are way out in front of this and I believe the public sentiment wins out.”