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WASHINGTON — After a surprise GOP amendment targeting undocumented immigrants, the Democratic-controlled House on Wednesday approved a measure requiring federal background checks for all firearms sales and transfers, the first major gun control legislation considered by Congress in nearly 25 years.
Democrats called the 240-190 vote a major step to end the gun lobby's grip on Washington and begin to address an epidemic of gun violence, including 17 people who were killed at a Florida high school last year.
The bill includes a Republican amendment requiring that gun sellers notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement when an illegal immigrant tries to buy a gun. Twenty-six Democrats joined with Republicans to support the amendment, offered by Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga.
The bill is the first of two that Democrats are bringing to the House floor this week as part of an effort to tighten gun laws following eight years of Republican control. The other bill would extend the review period for background checks from three to 10 days.
Both bills face dim prospects in the Republican-controlled Senate and veto threats from President Donald Trump, who said they would impose unreasonable requirements on gun owners.
The White House said in a veto message that the background-checks bill could block someone from borrowing a firearm for self-defense or allowing a neighbor to take care of a gun while traveling.
Democrats called those arguments misleading and said gun owners have a responsibility to ensure firearms are properly handled. The bill includes exceptions allowing temporary transfers to prevent imminent harm or for use at a target range.
The long-delayed bill would merely close loopholes to ensure that background checks are extended to private and online sales that often go undetected, Democrats said.
"People who are felons or are dangerously mentally ill shouldn't have guns," regardless of whether they buy them from a federally licensed dealer or their next-door neighbor, said Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., a key sponsor who has pushed for expanded background checks since the 2012 killing of 20 elementary school students in Newtown, Connecticut.
"For six-and-a-half years, we had no cooperation from the past majority" in the House, Thompson said. "We couldn't get a hearing on the bill. We couldn't get a vote. Today, we're here to tell you it's a new day. With this (Democratic) majority, we have made a commitment to address the issue of gun violence."
To demonstrate their support for the bill, Thompson and other Democrats wore orange ties, while others wore orange scarves, the color used by the movement against gun violence.
Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., said she hopes the symbolism will soon become obsolete.
"I long for the day when orange scarves are a fashion statement, not a cry for help," said Dean, who was wearing a bright orange scarf.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., who was gravely wounded in a 2017 shooting at a congressional baseball practice, said stricter background checks would not have prevented his shooting or other tragedies.
"What it would do is make criminals out of law-abiding citizens," Scalise said. "If you go hunting with a friend and your friend wants to borrow your rifle, you better bring your attorney with you because depending on what you do with that gun you may be a felon if you loan it to him."
Democrats said the bill includes exceptions allowing temporary transfers for anyone who feels threatened by a domestic partner or other person. The bill also allows a gun owner to loan their weapon and for use at a target range.
Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, opposed the overall bill, saying it "foolishly presumes criminals who flout existing laws will suddenly submit themselves to background checks."
Democrats and other bill supporters are "delusional" if they think "a criminal trading cocaine to another criminal for a firearm will reconsider due to" the background checks bill, Collins said.
But Kris Brown, president of Brady, a gun control group formerly known as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said the bill will save lives.
Brown called the House vote "a monumental step forward for gun violence prevention in our country" and hailed Thompson and other lawmakers who pushed for the measure.
"On to the Senate!" she said.