Retiring Rep. Bart Stupak will surely go down in history as the congressman who nearly killed health reform before assuring its passage at the eleventh hour. But there’s another controversial piece of his history that’s less well-known—one that might endear the Michigan Democrat a little more to his many progressive critics. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence is celebrating Stupak for supporting a 1999 bill to restrict gun sales—and urging other legislators to back the current incarnation of the legislation.
Long a staunch gun-rights defender, supported by the National Rifle Association since coming to Congress in 1992, Stupak defied expectation by backing a House bill that closed the so-called “gun show loophole,” requiring background checks for firearms sales from unauthorized dealers. The bill was proposed shortly after that the Columbine massacre, whose perpetrators had gotten their weapons via the loophole. While the measure never passed, the NRA didn’t forgive Stupak for backing it, pulling its support and campaigning against the Michigan Democrat in 2000.
“The gun lobby targeted Stupak for defeat, but he won handily,” the Brady Campaign said in a statement Tuesday. “When candidates do the right thing, their constituents stand behind them and support them.” The group points out that in his retirement speech last Friday, Stupak said he prided himself for having “taken on the National Rifle Association up here.”
Curiously enough, Stupak himself hasn’t yet signed on as a co-sponsor of the current incarnation of the bill, which has gained bipartisan support from nearly 100 House members. Last year, in fact, Stupak introduced legislation that would actually make it easier for convicted felons to acquire firearms—a bill that the NRA endorsed. But Stupak will probably leave the House before the current bill comes up for a vote, so we may not get a chance to see if he’d be willing to defy the gun lobby a second time around.