The bill, sponsored by Houston Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, is named after Sabika Sheikh, a Pakistani exchange student killed in the 2018 massacre at Houston's Santa Fe High School. It would direct the U.S. attorney general to develop a federal licensing system for guns and ammunition with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Gun owners would be required to provide the make, model and serial number of the gun, the name of the owner, and where it will be stored. The attorney general would then make a publicly available database of registered weapons.
To acquire a license, gun owners would have be 21 years old, pass a background check, complete a training course, obtain insurance, and undergo a psychological evaluation. "Military-style" weapons would require an additional training course and license.
The proposed psychological evaluation would have to be conducted by a licensed psychologist and require them to interview the spouse, former spouses, and least two other family members or associates of the person applying. Licenses would be automatically denied if the applicant had ever been hospitalized with a "mental illness, disturbance, or diagnosis," including depression, suicidal ideation, or addiction.
Liability insurance would also be required and provided for one year by the attorney general at the cost of $800. Any loans of weapons would require the attorney general to notified. Possession of a firearm or ammunition without a license or registration would be punished with a minimum of 15 years in prison or a fine of no less than $75,000.
The bill would also ban .50 caliber or greater ammunition and ammunition devices that hold more than 10 rounds. This would not apply to law enforcement.
The legislation was introduced January 4 and has currently been referred to the House Judiciary Committee. Jackson Lee introduced a similar bill with the same name last year that got some attention before dying in a subcommittee. In theory it has a better chance than last year with Democrats in control of Congress and Biden in the White House. But without any cosponsors, this bill isn't likely to go much further.
This hasn't stopped it from riling up gun supporters, who have been railing against it recently on pro-gun sites.
Local pro-gun author Alan Korwin sent out a newsletter about it on Tuesday with the headline "Dems Introduced Total Gun Bans."
"This is the greatest pile of dictatorial trash ever introduced into the United States Congress with respect to [the right to keep and bear arms]," he wrote. "It is prima facie evidence of the left-wing disrespect for the U.S. Constitution, your rights, the rule of law, the balance of power this nation runs on, or is supposed to run on, and undercuts any thing being said about Unity, Inclusion, Tolerance, Diversity, sanctity of human rights or crime control."
Reached by Phoenix New Times, Korwin acknowledged that the bill is unlikely to go anywhere, but said that the fact that it was even introduced should be a cause for concern.
"You have a legislator who wants to ban constitutionally protected property ... and her party didn't object," he said.
Korwin said the bill showed hatred toward gun owners and compared it banning or requiring licenses for certain books. He said books like the Bible, Das Kapital, and Mein Kampf had caused more deaths than guns. On a more practical level, Korwin said the bill could criminalize the millions of American gunowners for possessing things they already own and provide harsh penalties just for changing the location where a gun is stored.
Representative Jackson Lee did not respond to a message left at her office Wednesday afternoon, but in a 2019 press release she cited the Santa Fe shooting as just the latest massacre that drove her to introduce three gun control bills.
“If we are serious about the epidemic of gun violence, we must summon the courage to do something about it. This is not a new sentiment, and the bills I introduce today are another step in the quest to reduce gun violence," she wrote. "I will not rest until this bill becomes law. Enough is enough.”
The office of Senator Mark Kelly did not respond to an inquiry Wednesday afternoon about his position on the bill, nor did Representative Greg Stanton's office. Both have been outspoken about their support of gun law reform.
Gerry Hills, the founder and president of Arizonans for Gun Safety, told New Times she supports the proposed legislation as a way to ensure there are uniform gun laws across the country. Without it, criminals will be able to buy guns in states with laxer regulations and bring them to ones with stricter ones, she said.
"With lack of federal unification on gun regulation, it's very easy for people to exploit the patchwork of gun laws at the state level," she said.
Hills said her brother was killed 25 years ago by a gun dealer that Michigan police believed was tied to militias there. The emboldened presence of militia members at the U.S. Capitol and various state capitols is just another reason to ensure guns don't get into the wrong hands, she said.
Like Korwin, Hills also acknowledged she doesn't expect the legislation to go far. Democrats have such a slim hold on Congress that pushing legislation that is controversial even to some Democrats is unlikely. However, if if the bill were to move forward, some of the more controversial elements that she does not support — like the language about depression — would get taken out and middle ground could be found, she believes.
"The bill's there," she said. "Lets talk about it, negotiate it."