ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Today is the eighth anniversary of the 2011 Tucson shooting that gravely injured former Democratic Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. She's in Washington lobbying with other gun control advocates for a new bipartisan background check bill.
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GABRIELLE GIFFORDS: Now is the time to come together, be responsible Democrats, Republicans, everyone. We must never stop fighting. Fight. Fight. Fight.
SHAPIRO: NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis is following the gun debate and joins us now. Hi, Sue.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: This is just the second week of the new House Democratic majority. And after the government shutdown, gun legislation is already right near the top of the agenda. What does this say about the changing attitudes of Democrats on the gun issue?
DAVIS: I think it says Democrats aren't really afraid of the issue anymore. You know, a lot has changed since Democrats last controlled the House, including the Senate, under President Obama. They had control of everything about a decade ago, and they chose to do nothing on the issue of guns. Some things have changed. I mean, first, the sheer number of these mass shooting events that have occurred since the 2011 Tucson shooting has changed the national conversation. There's also just a political reality that there aren't that many Democrats left in Congress who don't support new restrictions on guns. The midterms - the 2018 midterms saw a lot of Democrats actually running on this issue, saying elect me to vote for gun control. And this new freshmen class of lawmakers see their majority as a mandate to vote for things like universal background checks.
SHAPIRO: Tell us about this new bill that was introduced today. It calls for universal background checks. How would it work?
DAVIS: So it would essentially extend current law for gun purchases - when you go to a store and buy a gun, you have to have a background check - to all gun sales and most gun transfers. This includes things like Internet sales, purchases at gun shows and person-to-person sales. There would also be some exemptions. It would not include, for instance, if you have an immediate family member who wants to gift a firearm to another member of the family. That kind of exchange would still be exempt.
SHAPIRO: The Senate has repeatedly considered passing tougher background checks and repeatedly failed to pass those bills. Do you think this changes the calculation on what could actually become law?
DAVIS: It doesn't seem likely that it's going to become law, but there's still some interesting movement about this bill. One of the authors of the Senate background check bill that has failed in the past, Pat Toomey - he's a Republican from Pennsylvania - called the new Democratic majority in the House a silver lining on the issue of gun legislation here. The House bill is also bipartisan. There's five Republican lawmakers already behind it, people like Peter King of New York and Brian Mast of Florida. He's an Afghan war veteran - Afghanistan War veteran who lost both of his legs in combat.
And the House itself is going to be pretty notable. If they vote on this, it will be the first major gun bill to get a vote since the 1994 crime bill, which included the so-called assault weapons ban. We just haven't had to see lawmakers go on the record for their - where they are on the issue. I talked to one activist to say - who said they're clear-eyed about the prospects, but they want to see where members are, so they, in her words, will show us who's with us and who's against us going into 2020.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Thank you.
DAVIS: You're welcome.
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