As it appeared in today’s Benicia Herald print edition. (See also Constance Beutel’s video coverage.)
Congressman Thompson attends Benicia Town Hall at a packed Senior Center
March 24, 2019 (Download PDF version here.)
Repost from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat
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.”
The No. 8 assigned to the legislation was a symbolic decision by Pelosi to pay respect to the eight-year mark of the shooting in Tucson on Jan. 8. But the single-digit number for the bill also is used to signal its importance and level of priority for the new speaker, who spoke of the issue’s “growing crescendo” from the packed stage during Tuesday’s press conference announcing the bill.
“In communities across America, courageous survivors, families and young advocates are showing outstanding courage and persistence demanding an end to the horrific scourge of violence in our nation,” Pelosi said in a prepared statement. “Our Democratic majority will press relentlessly for bipartisan progress to end the epidemic of gun violence on our streets, in our schools and in our places of worship. Enough is enough.”
The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019 is actually co-sponsored by 10 members of Congress, including five Republicans. Rep. Peter King, R-New York, is for the fourth time joining Thompson in his pursuit of what’s been labeled “commonsense” and “bold” gun legislation.
A request seeking comment on the legislation from the National Rifle Association, which traditionally opposes the expansion of laws that restrict access to guns, went unreturned Tuesday. If passed by both congressional chambers as written and signed into law by President Trump, Thompson’s bill still would allow firearm transfer exceptions between families, friends and hunting partners. It does not address a Trump administration rollback of an Obama-era gun law that would have required the Social Security Administration to provide information on those with mental disorders during background checks.
Thompson bristles at the idea of maintaining inaction as the continued response to tackling the complex issue because there exists no panacea for ending mass shootings and gun deaths in their entirety in America.
“There’s no single piece of legislation that’s going to solve all the problems and address the overall issue of gun violence,” he said. “The experts say the single most important thing that yields the greatest return is expanding background checks. It’s our first line of defense in keeping people who shouldn’t have guns from having guns.”
No set timetable for when the bill might advance through a House Judiciary Committee hearing and then, if approved, onto the House floor, but Thompson said he’s confident it will pass with near-total support among the 235-member Democratic majority and at least the five Republicans who signed on as co-sponsors. He said he expects that will happen in the first 100 days of the 2019 Congress, and then it would be up to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, whether to put the bill up for a vote in the Senate.
“The Senate is a hurdle,” Thompson acknowledged. “I also think sending this bill over with a good bipartisan vote puts pressure on McConnell to allow the issue to come up in the Senate. It’s important we have success with this, pass the bill out of the House, which sends a loud message that yes we can do these things, and my colleagues in the House and Senate need to stand up for what’s right and take these issues on.”
An influential Benicia resident (who wishes to remain anonymous) wrote to me on May 22, highly concerned over our Rep. Mike Thompson’s moderate statements on the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force page on his website. Her email subject line was “Not what I expected: Mike Thompson on gun violence.” She wrote:
Rep. Mike Thompson, District 5, has been chair of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force in the US House of Representative for several years. Here is his disturbing current statement on the Task Force site: note: there are links on the site about his gun prevention plans. From his website…
“As a hunter and gun owner I believe we should protect a law-abiding individual’s Second Amendment right to own firearms. As a dad and grandfather I also believe that we have a responsibility to make our schools, streets and communities safe. We can do both, but Congress will need to step up.
After being named chair of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force in the U.S. House of Representatives, I held a series of open town halls in our district that examined some of the actions that Congress could take. Hundreds attended these meetings. I heard views from law enforcement officials, mental health experts, school officials, NRA members and gun control advocates. Many feared that their Second Amendment rights would come under attack when my task force made its recommendations to Congress. Others wanted to cast those rights aside.
I believe both views are too extreme. I will never give up my guns and I will never ask law-abiding Americans without a history of dangerous mental illness to give up theirs. Not only am I personally against this, the Constitution does not allow it. In District of Columbia v. Heller the Supreme Court affirmed once and for all that Americans have a right to keep and bear arms.
However, just as the First Amendment protects free speech but doesn’t allow you to incite violence, the Second Amendment has restrictions too. As conservative justice Anthony Scalia outlined, Heller does not prohibit laws forbidding firearms in places such as schools, nor does it restrict laws prohibiting felons and the mentally ill from carrying guns.
This ruling provides people on both sides of the issue with an opportunity to work within the confines of the Second Amendment and pass legislation that will reduce and prevent gun violence.”
I wrote back, detailing Mike’s stated views on assault weapons: “After the Parkland FL school shooting in February … Mike held a Benicia town Hall on March 17, where he very clearly, more than once, stated that ‘military grade automatic and semi-automatic assault weapons do not belong in the hands of citizens.'” (See Mike Thompson makes news in Benicia: ‘military grade assault weapons do not belong in citizens’ hands’.)
I wrote to Thompson’s staff, sharing our concern about the Gun Violence Prevention page on his website, and suggesting they update the page to show Mike’s evolving views on this subject. “I hope you will pass this on to Mike and make an effort to update the website, calling for new and more stringent controls on guns, with special attention to military grade automatic and semi-automatic assault weapons.”
I heard back that same day with a promise to pass our concern on to Mike’s communications director in Washington D.C., Alex Macfarlane.
As of today, there have been no updates on Mike’s Gun Violence Prevention page. Similarly, I can find no mention of assault weapons or automatic / semi-automatic weapons on Thompson’s Facebook page. I hope to hear from his office about changes, and will report here with updates.
Contact Rep. Mike Thompson – ask him what is his position on banning military grade automatic and semi-automatic assault weapons: