The H.R.8 - Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019 cleared the house with some, albeit small, bipartisan support and earned the ire of progressive democrats. The bill started out as, it appears, a simple closure of "the gun show loophole" - essentially forcing any firearms transfer of ownership to utilize the existing background check system (Democrat proposal). The Republicans added language such that ICE (Immigrations and Customs) would need to be notified by NICS (the background check system) if the person attempting to purchase the gun was illegally in the country. (The bill text for this amendment is not online and so, I'm unsure if this section applies to all non-citizens or only those in the States illegally)

I don't understand two parts of this situation:

  1. Why would the bill not gather more bipartisan support in the first place? I understand that democrats lean more toward the notion that illegal immigrants have a right to be in the US but surely that platform doesn't extend rights all the way to the purchase of firearms?
  2. What are the political motivations for avoiding bipartisanship on this bill? Would it not be better, in this case, to expand background checks in an effort to continue moving toward larger gun reforms, even if it means working with "the enemy?" (Though the ends of the political spectrum have grown more extreme, I'm under the notion that America, as a whole, remains fairly central and thus expects politicians to play together in the sandbox, so to speak).
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    Most bills have many ideas/facets/plans bundled together, any one of which might be objectionable to one person or another. What might be some pork grease (a necessary evil) to one might be morally objectionable to another. In this case, the mentioned democrats objecting don't want to give any additional authority to ICE, an organization they deem as problematic at best, and complicit in child abuse at worse.
    – dandavis
    Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 21:57
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    Recommend you provide more context for the agitation. It isn't about the bill itself, but about an amendment the moderates joined the Republicans in putting on the bill. You need to add the context, else you're creating confusion bouncing the gun control narrative against illegal immigrants. Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 21:58
  • Also, with regard to your second question, are you referring to bipartisanship with respect to background checks and other gun reforms, or bipartisanship more generally?
    – Joe C
    Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 22:12
  • There were 12 people out of 432 that did not vote the party line (that includes 2 "not voting"). I'm not sure how that counts as bipartisan. clerk.house.gov/evs/2019/roll099.xml
    – BurnsBA
    Commented Mar 4, 2019 at 17:26
  • @DrunkCynic your move Commented Mar 11, 2019 at 16:57

1 Answer 1


In order to provide full context for this situation, it is important to understand that there are several trends in how Congress behaves that produces confusing results like this:

  1. Voters preferences are becoming more politically extreme in both parties, resulting in more Representatives who get elected to Congress to represent a sort of ideological purity rather than to accomplish clearly defined policy goals.

  2. It is difficult to pass effective legislation at the moment, in part because of point 1, and in part because neither party has complete control over Congress (e.g. a House majority and 60+ votes in the Senate).

Because of this, the writing of bills at this moment is a less an exercise in crafting sensible public policy to achieve a goal, and more of a way for Congressmen to signal forms of virtue to their constituencies at home.

In the case of the Bipartisan Background Checks Bill, this is a bill that nobody actually expects will pass the Republican Senate. So, it's less important that the bill itself be an effective means for achieving background checks that reduce gun violence, and it is much more important that it signals that its supporters believe in certain things. For the proponents of the bill, it's important to represent to their constituencies that they take gun violence seriously. For the Republicans who added the amendment to stop illegal aliens from getting guns, it's about signalling that they take illegal immigrant crime seriously. For progressives that have taken the position that ICE should be abolished, the amendment gives them an opportunity to repeat that position and prove to voters back home that they are "serious" about it.

If there was an actual chance of the bill passing, then the kinds of bipartisan deliberations you imagine should be happening probably would be, because the bill might actually pass and might actually do something. That's not going to happen here, so everyone is free to use the whole thing to posture in whatever way they think is in their narrow self interest. A significant number of Democrats find it in their self interest to say ICE should not exist, so should not get any additional power. For a Republican version of this same dynamic, the various bills to repeal the Affordable Care Act before 2016 and after illustrate nicely that this is not a problem with any one party in Congress.

EDIT: Since people would like proof of political polarization over time, here is a Pew Research study that clearly demonstrates median voters in both parties are becoming more extreme, and have been for the past 20 years: http://www.people-press.org/2014/06/12/political-polarization-in-the-american-public/

Here is another study from Pew that shows a similar effect among Congressmen since the 70's: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/06/12/polarized-politics-in-congress-began-in-the-1970s-and-has-been-getting-worse-ever-since/

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    I've down voted this answer: no citations to prove 1. Commented Mar 2, 2019 at 19:12
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    @Drunk Cynic I have provided two studies from the Pew Research Center to support claim 1.
    – Joe
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 20:16
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    @PoloHoleSet Gerrymandering cannot be the cause because the Senate cannot be gerrymandered, yet its member's views are getting more extreme as well.
    – Joe
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 20:18
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    @Joe - The party is run by officials elected at the local level, at the state level, elected to the House. The people who get elected to the Senate often start out at those other levels, and are influenced by their state parties, which all are impacted by gerrymandered districts. Also, the Senate is, compared to the House, still the more "moderate" of the Congressional levels. Senate candidates are not magically conjured from the ether. Most of them start at other levels of elected government. Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 20:34
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    @Drunk Cynic Which policy changes were those?
    – Joe
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 20:51

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