WASHINGTON, D.C. — Rep. Zoe Lofgren remembers feeling a pang of anger when she first learned a mass shooting had terrorized her district more than two years ago. The 2019 massacre at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, which left three dead and more than a dozen injured, strengthened the San Jose Democrat’s commitment to gun control.
“It hurt my heart and it made me angry,” she told San José Spotlight. “It also further reinforced my long-held belief that the seemingly unending string of mass shootings and gun deaths in America is a public health crisis and should be treated as such by our government.”
On Thursday, Lofgren was among the House legislators who passed a pair of bills intended to expand background checks on all firearm sales. Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Palo Alto) and Ro Khanna (D-Fremont) also supported the measures.
The Enhanced Background Checks Act would close a loophole in federal law allowing the sale of a gun to continue without a completed background check if three business days have passed. It would extend the review period from three to 10 days.
The Bipartisan Background Checks Act would prohibit a firearm transfer between private parties unless a licensed gun dealer, manufacturer or importer first takes possession of the gun to conduct a background check.
California already has a 10 day waiting period and forbids private sales of guns. Supporters back national rules as part of an effort to keep guns purchased in other states from coming into California.
If the bills pass the Senate and are signed into law, they would be the first major gun reform measures passed by the federal government in more than two decades.
“It’s unconscionable that common-sense gun safety bills that are supported by an overwhelming majority of the American public have been obstructed in Congress time and time again,” Lofgren said. “I hope that changes soon.”
Support for gun control is on the rise, according to data from the Pew Research Center. The center found the number of Americans who believe the U.S. needs stricter gun laws increased from 52% in 2017 to 60% in 2019.
But gun control still remains a fiercely divisive issue. Shortly after Thursday’s vote, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield slammed House Democrats on his blog for trying to make it more difficult to obtain a firearm.
“Under the guise of universal background checks, they want to make it harder for Americans to keep themselves and their families safe,” he wrote.
Not all supporters of the Second Amendment, however, are opposed to tightening up background checks. San Jose resident Kirk Vartan, a self-described firearm enthusiast, doesn’t object to either bill.
“We all want to be safe,” he said. “We all want people who cause crimes not to have firearms.”
Vartan suspects some law-abiding gun owners will oppose the measures solely because they fear it will be a slippery slope that culminates in the elimination of all gun rights. This is a consequence of the nation’s polarized politics, he said, which have led many Americans to develop an all-or-nothing attitude.
But Vartan said Americans on both sides of the issue need to work together to find solutions that will reduce gun violence while still respecting the right to bear arms.
Vartan added he has urged media and local leaders to organize a community meeting about firearms. He pointed out public gun discussions tend to be sponsored by groups affiliated with a particular side of the issue.
“They aren’t actually trying to have a conversation, they are just pushing a viewpoint and running with that,” he said.
Mountain View resident Lisa Henry said both bills have her full support. Henry is a volunteer leader with the California chapter of Moms Demand Action in San Jose.
“There are a lot of responsible gun owners in the country who have been through background checks and use them for responsible reasons,” she said. “But what we want to do is make sure that we are keeping the guns out of the hands of people who should not have them.”
Henry believes the bills could help with that goal. California already has some of the nation’s strictest gun laws, but she said there is a need for consistency across all states. Otherwise, residents can cross state lines to evade California’s rules.
“We want to make sure that every gun sale across the country is treated the same way,” she said.
In recent years, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo has sought to establish new gun control measures. He has proposed requiring gun owners in the city to carry mandatory liability insurance in order to compensate taxpayers for the public costs of firearm violence.
Rachel Davis, the mayor’s spokesperson, provided an update to San José Spotlight on Friday.
She said an independent third-party is currently collecting data on the public costs of gun violence in San Jose and Santa Clara County. Conversations with residents and community organizations are also ongoing. A report is expected by the end of June.
Firearm injuries are a serious public health problem, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC recorded 39,740 gun-related deaths in the United States in 2018. It lists firearm injuries as one of the five leading causes of death for people ages 1 to 64.
Contact Katie King at [email protected] or follow @KatieKingCST on Twitter.